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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - In the Falling Dark

brucecockburn fallingdarkIf an artist’s worth can be gauged by the degree to which his artistry evolves, then Bruce Cockburn’s value has grown immeasurably with each passing album. Over the course of 32 years and nearly as many recordings, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter has always pushed the musical envelope. Never one to rest on his creative laurels, he has constantly tried on new ideas without ever abandoning the fabric of earlier material. The result is a rich body of work—deep, diverse and never disappointing—that stands the test of time and includes some of the most sophisticated and evocative songs in pop music.

    Originally released in 1976, In the Falling Dark was the first of a trilogy of recordings that bridged Cockburn’s acoustic work of the early ’70s with his electric period a decade later. Stylistically adventurous, it featured more jazz textures than folk influences, reflecting Cockburn’s long-time love of John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and showcased the daring, improvisational interplay of flute and horns. In the Falling Dark was also the first collection of songs that fully explored Cockburn’s deepening Christian faith, with numerous songs of praise and worship. But, far from fundamentalist or evangelical in tone, those songs—like all of his spiritual material—could be

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Inner City Front

brucecockburn innercityThe best artists—not flavour-of-the-week pretenders, but ones who view art as life’s work—know that reinvention is a necessary part of the creative process. Think of the chameleon-like transformations of David Bowie, Bob Dylan or even U2; each has redefined themselves at key points in their careers. Cynics might charge opportunism, but there’s real danger involved with such moves, including risking one’s traditional audience. Truth is, artists need to follow their muse—to say nothing of the need to reflect new circumstances in their lives. All of this brings about changes.

    For Canada’s Bruce Cockburn, the months leading up to Inner City Front’s 1981 release had been fraught with change: his marriage of 10 years dissolved, leading him to switch from country to city life. Taking an apartment in downtown Toronto, he assembled a band of crack musicians and adopted a more rugged, urban sound. Gone were most traces of the Gentle Folkie of the late 1960s and even the Mystic Christian of the ’70s. In their place was the New Wave Cockburn of the ’80s, highly politicized and sporting both a leather jacket and an electric guitar. A tour of Italy with bandmates Hugh Marsh, Jon Goldsmith, Kathryn Moses, Dennis Pendrith and Bob DiSalle exposed him to new audiences and provided fresh inspiration. “I’d lost touch with what it felt like to play

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Stealing Fire

brucecockburn stealingfireThe words, “you’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight,” from Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” have traveled well. In some places, they’ve even slipped into the vernacular. The phrase “kick at the darkness” became the title of a Cockburn tribute album, featuring a hit version of the song by pop-rockers Barenaked Ladies. And superstar Bono quoted the expression in his own song “God Part II” on U2’s Rattle and Hum album. Meanwhile, the popularity of “Lovers” helped to make Stealing Fire Cockburn’s best-selling album. But, in crafting the lyric, the Canadian singer-songwriter wanted only to issue a challenge to complacency. “What I meant,” he later explained, “was that we can’t settle for things as they are. If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”

Cockburn had said much the same in the title track from his previous album, The Trouble with Normal, which cited labor strife, tenant conflicts and Third World intervention. But, with 1984’s Stealing Fire, Cockburn’s words and music took on even greater urgency. The previous year, he made his first trip to Central America on behalf

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Sunwheel Dance

brucecockburn sunwheeldanceBruce Cockburn’s third album is an undeniably joyous affair. From the Renaissance-inspired “My Lady and My Lord” to the giddy singalong “For the Birds,” Sunwheel Dance basks in warm, acoustic guitar and bright, hopeful lyrics. Taken together with Cockburn’s previous High Winds White Sky and his self-titled debut, it forms a powerful trilogy that reflects the singer-songwriter’s deep love of nature and his growing spirituality. “It was a period when I was searching but very unaware of my own inner workings,” Cockburn later explained. “There was all this optimism, even though the songs themselves may have been going in different directions. But the imagery of light was there—a lot.”

Indeed, sunlit images infuse almost every song on the album. On the chorus to the opening “My Lady and My Lord,” Cockburn taunts the wind and rain, knowing that “the sun will shine again.” In the tranquil “Fall,” he sings of walking in a meadow “with sunrise inside,” while the closing “For the Birds” and the hymn-like “He Came from the Mountain” use the sun to describe blue jays and God’s face respectively. Then there is the mandolin-driven “When the Sun Falls” and the album’s breezy title track, the first instrumental to showcase Cockburn’s formidable

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - The Trouble with Normal

brucecockburn troublePeople have made a great deal of fuss about Bruce Cockburn’s activism, usually citing his song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” as evidence of a sudden shift toward radical politics. He wrote the controversial in 1983 after making his first trip to Central America, where he visited a refugee camp that was attacked by U.S.-backed military helicopters. But, as Cockburn fans know, it wasn’t the first time the respected Canadian singer-songwriter had vented anger at imperialist intervention. He’d tackled the topic as far back as the mid-1970s, with his “Yankee gunboat” song “Burn.” In fact, Cockburn’s political views had evolved steadily, as a direct extension of his spirituality. “Can’t be an innocent bystander,” he declared on his 1981 album, Inner City Front, “in a world of pain and fire and steel.”

Completed immediately prior to that fateful Central American trip, The Trouble with Normal bristles with much of the same anger and outrage. Cockburn had been given a book of poetry written by Sandinista priest Ernesto Cardenal and read it while on holiday in the Canary Islands. Those revolutionary poems inspired Cockburn to write

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws

Rounding out the 1970s and completing a trilogy of acoustic jazz-folk albums that included In the Falling Dark and Further Adventures Of , Bruce Cockburn’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws stands as both an era-ending album and a cumulative release that neatly built on the strengths of its predecessors. It also serves as a high-water mark for Cockburn in several respects. Featuring some of his finest guitar work ever, the album was voted an “essential” recording by Acoustic Guitar magazine, putting Cockburn in the prestigious company of such revered pickers as Django Reinhardt, Andrés Segovia, Bill Frisell and Mississippi John Hurt. It also provided Cockburn with a commercial breakthrough on the...
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