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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - High Winds White Sky

brucecockburn highwindsThe stark black and white cover photo speaks volumes about Bruce Cockburn in the early 1970s. He stands alone at the foot of a bridge, surrounded by snow-capped trees, looking like what writer Jack Batten then described as a “splendid survivor of Robin Hood’s merry men dressed in leather jerkins and boot-high moccasins.” At the time, the rising singer-songwriter possessed a deep fascination with the wilderness and things medieval—especially Renaissance music. And although already on a quest, Cockburn had not yet embraced his particular brand of Christianity. He was, in his own words, a “spiritual loner who sought truth in nature.” 

Images and references to rivers, birds, mountains and, especially, sunlight abound on 1971’s High Winds White Sky—as they do on Cockburn’s previous self-titled debut album and the subsequent Sunwheel Dance. The three albums formed a powerful acoustic trilogy that established Cockburn as one of Canada’s most important performers of introspective, literate songs. Unfortunately, they also typecast him as a pastoral folkie, an image that Cockburn found ultimately restricting. For one thing, his tastes went well beyond just folk into country blues and global music. And his interests led him to Buddhist teachings, from the Beat writers to the Sutras themselves. Blending all of those elements, High Winds White Sky remains a landmark recording—as fresh and

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Humans

brucecockburn humansRanked by many people as Bruce Cockburn’s best album, Humans is a watershed release in the acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter’s stellar career. It came in the midst of tumultuous change in Cockburn’s life, following the breakup of his 10-year marriage and his move from the country to the city. After a decade of rural existence, living in a camper and then settling in tiny Burritt’s Rapids, south of Ottawa, the longtime loner took up residence in downtown Toronto. It was, he told reporters at the time, a deliberate test of his faith. “I moved with the express purpose of absorbing myself in human society to see what it was,” said Cockburn. “If, as a Christian, I was being asked to love my fellow human beings, I couldn’t love them very well if I didn’t know anything about them.”

    With 1980’s Humans, Cockburn challenged himself musically as well as spiritually. The album represented the first of his more electric, rock-oriented releases, after the trilogy of acoustic jazz folk recordings that culminated in 1979’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. The latter produced the reggae-flavored “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which became a Top 40 hit in both Canada and the United States. Where “Lions” featured the rhythm section of Jamaican star Leroy Sibbles’ group, Humans’ anthemic “Rumours of Glory,” with its bouncy bass, added the reggae legend himself on backup vocals. Cockburn, wielding an electric guitar and backed by such new band members as violinist Hugh Marsh and keyboardist Jon Goldsmith, infused the entire album with a tougher, more uptempo sound. “I really wanted to play reggae music and rock ’n’ roll,” he

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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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