Bruce Cockburn - Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws

Wednesday 1st January 2003
Bruce Cockburn - Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws
Bruce Cockburn - Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws

STYLE: Roots/Acoustic
RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
LABEL: True North TND287

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Of all Bruce's rich and wonderful output of albums down the years, this is (quite scandalously) the only one which ever got marketed into British Christian retail. Now that may not be a problem if you view Christian bookshops as an unhealthy cultural ghetto (and we won't go there with this review) but it does seem a tragedy that Canada's finest has been so neglected by those who purport to sell Christian music. But what of this 1979 album? Does it stand up to the re-issued-and-remastered treatment? Absolutely. Being as it were the third of a trio of what the sleevenote calls "acoustic jazz-folk albums", 'Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws' is like an old wine which the years have enriched so, if anything, its subtle charms are increased. It also features some of his finest guitar work ever and anyone who hasn't caught one of his too-infrequent UK sojourns will know that this man is one of the best guitar pickers in the whole gamut of 20th century music. (Apparently, Acoustic Guitar magazine put Cockburn in the prestigious company as such renowned fret wizards as Django Reinhardt, Andries Segovia and Mississippi John Hurt!IMAG) The album also proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Bruce, with a single from it, the classic "Wondering Where The Lions Are", becoming a Top 40 hit in both the singer/songwriter's Canadian homeland and in the USA. The album boasts a bright, celebratory tone. Bruce once said the album was about "being joyful in the face of everything." Not that this is a shallow piece of Christian triumphalism. Bruce went on to say, "I wanted to give a concrete expression of the suffering that's all too evident in the world." It opens with a couple of spiritual songs with "Creation Dream" underpinned by Pat Godfrey's shuffling marimba rhythms and "Hills Of Morning" where over a loping guitar figure the singer depicts a street scene in which portrays a street person in first century Jerusalem. This breathtaking vision is followed by "Badlands Flashback", sung in French and with some of the most dazzling fingerpicking you'll hear this side of Heaven. Talking of Bruce's deft guitar skills, there are two instrumentals on this set, one written after the overthrow of the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin (a wonderful bonus track). In the words of sleevenote writer Nicholas Jennings, it features "so many lightning fast notes that you'll think Cockburn was playing a 21-string African kora, rather than a six-string guitar." One final rave, "Wondering Where The Lions Are" is still an arresting song. Backed by the rhythm section of Jamaican reggae legend Leroy Sibbles, the fluid melodic groove is matched by some of the best lyrics ever to grace a pop chart hit, "I'm thinking about eternity, some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me," he muses before that joyful chorus emerges. There is a lion outside the camp seeking to devour us but sometimes the joy and ecstasy we find in our communion with Christ ensures the Enemy and his demons are just that, OUTSIDE the camp.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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