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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 - 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 - 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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