Reviewed by Jonathan Day
Bruce Cockburn is, almost certainly unintentionally, one of the main players in the de-ghettoisation of Christian music which the last few years have seen. One of a handful of Christian artists with mainstream success and credibility who were open about their faith without being trite, formularised or cliched. Bruce is a controversial figure of course, criticised for his views on the church and occasionally for his choice of material; Monty Python's "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" was on his live album, not a bad song in a stupid sort of way, but for most people associated with a puerile, revolting and pointless scene in their 'Life Of Brian'. His songwriting is usually eloquent, intelligent and powerful: "Lord Of The Starfields", "Tibetan Side Of Town" and the much covered "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" respectively. This, his latest, and the first given a big Columbia Records push, is a disappointment, but only because of the excellence of his back catalogue. The lyrical poetry occasionally surfaces, but his writing here is deliberately restrained and often predictable. Musically also the songs, though attractive, offer no surprises, the melodies resolve predictably in pretty well every song. I feel this again is deliberate, Bruce and producer T Bone Burnett are far too capable for it not to be. It seems to me that the album is trying hard to be "post-modern" as the critics say, in other words, traditional. The country music content of the writing, arrangement and performance is high, particularly Cockburn's guitar and vocal style. The easy style of the album recalls the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling", much of Crosby Stills Nash and Young area "Deja Vu" and even at times some of Chris Rea's languorous output. The album never kicks into the overdrive of much of Steve Earle's style of New Country, however. A standout track is Cockburn's cover of Blind Willie Johnson's 1930's song "Soul Of A Man". In many ways the rest of the album is Bruce trying to write with the same lack of lyrical and musical pretension, while remaining as Blind Willie's song does, powerful. What was natural for a deep south blues singer in the 30s seems dangerously close to affectation in an internationally travelled, highly literate and acclaimed musician, writing in 1991. So, a gently, country tinged album, meandering through an hour and 23 seconds. I personally prefer Cockburn's power and poetry, but if you're into New Country I suspect you'll like this.
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