ALBUM REVIEW: Bruce Cockburn On a Roll with ‘O Sun O Moon’
Bruce Cockburn has been a revered musical icon in Canada for more than half a century, but despite being championed by the likes of Jerry Garcia and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and being famously called out by Eddie Van aHHalen as the world’s greatest guitarist, he has never caught on in the same way outside of his native country. This lack of mainstream success is probably not something that the 77-year-old songwriter has devoted much thought to; like his contemporaries David Bowie and Bob Dylan, he’s never been one to rest with or follow successful formulas. As a relentlessly creative artist, Cockburn has pursued his very personal and highly accomplished musical visions ever since his debut album was released in 1969.
Featuring 11 new songs and one instrumental track that showcases his exemplary guitar playing, O Sun O Moon is Bruce Cockburn’s 38th album and will almost certainly come to be considered one of his best.
The opening track, “On a Roll,” is Cockburn’s declaration to his audience that even though he’s old and time waits for no one, he doesn’t want to be counted out yet. An ode to never giving up, it defines the mood of the album, declaring “this is who I am and what I believe” without blush or apology. It sets the stage perfectly for the topical songs such as “Orders,” “Push Come to Shove,” and “To Keep the World We Know” that follow it. Buoyed along by some of the most gorgeous acoustic melodies you’ll ever hear, they pack lyrics that call out global warming, unscrupulous banks, and religious hypocrisy. Cockburn clearly learned a long time ago that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Cockburn’s music is informed by a progressive Christian faith, but he has never been one to proselytize, with his lyrics reflecting his assertion that the love and compassion that are supposed to accompany belief have all but disappeared in the modern world.
As with most of his records, the subject matter of O Sun O Moon is balanced between social-political commentary and introspective love songs. As an artist, Cockburn has always worn his heart on his sleeve and has never shied away from highly personal and intimate topics. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, like on the otherwise lovely title track, his phrasing is awkward and the right words seem to elude him. He gets tangled and overstates the obvious, but Cockburn’s unrelenting sincerity, and the undeniable beauty of the music, inevitably come to the rescue.
At 77 years of age — well past the three score and ten years allotted to each of us in the Bible — Bruce Cockburn shows no signs of easing up. He is, as he sings on the opening track of O Sun O Moon, clearly “on a roll.”
Bruce Cockburn’s O Sun O Moon is out May 12 on True North Records.