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The home of music journalist Nicholas Jennings, author of Lightfoot, the definitive new Gordon Lightfoot biography from Penguin Random House.

Liner Notes: The Ugly Ducklings – Too Much Too Soon

uglyducklingsOn a spring night in 1965, a warm breeze blew along Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue, carrying with it a strange mixture of scents: rich coffee, pungent marijuana and noxious automobile exhaust. Cars crawled along the one-way street between Bay and Avenue Road, past sidewalks filled with teenagers in Beatlecuts and miniskirts. Some sat on café patios, others strolled along the tree-lined boulevard or hung out on doorsteps. Boys watching girls watching boys.

Like flowers in a hothouse, the musicians in Yorkville thrived on the responses of those who flocked to hear them. There was literally something for everyone: the traditional jazz of Jim McHarg & his Metro Stompers at the Penny Farthing, the delicate ballads of Joni Mitchell at the New Gate of Cleve, the blues folk of John Kay at the Half Beat and the stirring songs of Gordon Lightfoot at the Riverboat.

Meanwhile, the new pop sound had infiltrated the village, with British-influenced bands everywhere: Jack London & the Sparrows at the Café El Patio, Dee & the Yeomen up at the Night Owl and the hard-rocking Ugly Ducklings

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Live

brucecockburn liveOver the years, Bruce Cockburn concerts have evolved from solo performances in moccasins into full-band gigs in army boots. In the beginning, Cockburn travelled around in an old camper truck, a vagabond poet with acoustic guitar in hand and faithful dog, Aroo, at his feet. During the ’80s, he and his group toured in a large streamlined bus, dressed like urban guerrillas wielding an arsenal of electric instruments. By the end of that decade—and for much of the next—Cockburn downsized and performed with just a pair of talented sidemen. But as his superb live recordings reveal, regardless of the era or the size of his entourage, Cockburn’s concerts are always a wonder to behold: expansive, entrancing and full of surprises.

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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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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 - 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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