The Charity of Night
Integrity: the quality in Bruce Cockburn's work that will enable a large portion of his writing and recordings to endure and the trait that has earned him the respect of colleagues and fans around the world. His creative, expertly performed, well-written music and lyrics offer enough shining facets to keep any listener satisfied. His new release, The Charity of Night, continues in this tradition.
"Night Train" seems like a weak opening cut, but there are a few strengths worth noting. Rob Wasserman's bass work is quite good, and flashes of sound effects from drums and electric guitar are enjoyable. But the harmonic experimentation in this song is a bit annoying. Furthermore, Cockburn's poetry, usually strong enough to stand without music, doesn't seem to cut it on this song. He does conjure one vivid image:
Starlight shines like glass shards in dark hair.
Artists with long careers often go through times where the work of a certain period is either personal or political. This CD has a blend of both. Vivid imagery, as seen in the first verse of "Pacing the Cage," is one of Cockburn's strengths. The middle verses of this very personal song seem like a confession to his audience, while the opening and closing verses could apply to anyone because "sooner or later you'll wind up pacing the cage."
Cockburn revives his old practice of including an instrumental. This scenic improvisation gives Cockburn and vibes player Gary Burton a chance to cut loose and let their technique shine. It's fun to hear the vibes in a musical style one doesn't associate with that instrument. All that said, this listener must admit she'll probably skip this track in the future. Like many of these instrumental exercises, it tends to ramble.
It's the early 70's again with a soulful country-rock song called "The Whole Night Sky." Bonnie Raitt contributes a wonderful/awful slide guitar line depending on your stylistic bias. The song has depth, though, and makes one wonder what kind of pain Cockburn was in at the time he wrote this.
"Birmingham Shadows" goes even further back to the time of beatnicks and mods. Once again, subtle musical flavor, that of a fifties club, is blended with music that remains distinctly Cockburn. The story line is reminiscent of On the Road by Jack Kerouac with a catchy chorus that keeps things moving.
Bruce Cockburn has taken an interest in a number of causes over the years, with songs often being the by-products. Here he takes us to Mozambique with "The Coming Rains" and vividly shares his experience as a representative for Cooperation Canada-Mozambique, a non-governmental coalition seeking to help this African nation get back on its feet after fifteen years of civil war. There's yet another musical surprise supplied by drummer Gary Craig--a rockabilly beat! Another song, "The Mines of Mozambique," also deals with the problems caused by land mines and could be easily applied to other countries. The song has a mysterious opening generated by a double bass many fans have mistaken for an exotic "Mongolian Keyboard Thing". The story is enjoyable to listeners who can focus their attention on this longish piece, but most of the musical elements sound too much like other Bruce "Cause" songs.
"Live on My Mind" transports Cockburn's listeners to Hawaii. The romantic picture leaves us wondering if the loved one is there or if the vision is a product of desire. Lovers sometime experience events that are frozen in time. Cockburn successfully suspends time both in the way he describes the scene and in the repeating, circular musical accompaniment. Many listeners will enjoy returning to "Live on My Mind."
Upon hearing the title track's introduction, you might think you were hearing some newly discovered work by Eric Satie. This beautiful, subtle backdrop sets off the well-written verses of disturbing memories. Cockburn's stark honesty about the darker side of life is a quality that attracts some listeners, but repulses others. Haunting memories make this gem of truth shine ever brighter:
The clarity of light
Gentle bows and glasses raised
To the charity of night.
In the past, integrity of music and honesty in content is what had this American fan digging through CD bins in Hamburg, Germany and calling every music store in Vancouver for Cockburn recordings. Casual Cockburn listeners only familiar with "Rocket Launcher" should mine the riches of Bruce Cockburn's entire oeuvre. Thanks to Sony, most of it is now easily available with gems to treasure for years to come.
By: Beverly Westergren
Apparently confession is the first step on the road to redemption,
so I'd better come clean: this album is the first full release from
Bruce Cockburn that I've listened to. I've seen Bruce's name around,
come close to buying a couple of his albums, and even watched another show
only two tents from where he was playing, but it's only now that I've really
discovered Bruce Cockburn.
By: James Stewart
This is the latest chronicle of a guy who is living out his life, and it hasn't been great, but it never is what you thought it would be at eighteen. "Sometimes the road leads through dark places, and sometimes the darkness is your friend." Darker than some of his albums, there is still an element of hope in his world-weariness. "I wear my shadows where they're harder to see, but they follow me everywhere. I guess that should tell me I am traveling toward light." For those of you who consider middle-age a physical impossibility, you could do worse than traveling a mile or two in Cockburn's night.
By: Shari Lloyd
The Charity of Night is my introduction to Bruce Cockburn. I'm told the variety on this project makes it a good jumping-off place into this singer/songwriter's twenty-plus disks, but I plan to stay right here until I wear out the CD.
By: Linda Stonehocker
This is not a review. This is an unapologetic endorsement. Charity of Night is my favorite album of 1997, despite credible competition for the coveted title. Bruce approaches his best work here with songs that are finely crafted hybrids of folk, blues, and roots rock forms. The lyrics are impassioned and intelligent. The poetry is peerless. If you've been debating about this one, stop lollygagging and go get it. Give it some time to grow on you, and you'll be pleasantly pleased.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin