REVIEW: BRUCE COCKBURN – BONE ON BONE (2017)

Canadian institution with his first album in six years 

“The beauty of language set a hook in my soul….”

The above is a line in “3 Al Purdys”. Ostensibly a song about a homeless guy on the street who is in the thrall of the Canadian poet, it represents so much more here.

“Bone On Bone” might be the 33rd album of Bruce Cockburn’s incredible award-winning career, but it is his firs for over half a decade. “…..Purdys” was the icebreaker in his words. The one that led him from questioning whether in his 70s he had anything left, to making a new record.

It was a book of Purdy’s poems that did, and reminded Cockburn of the beauty of words. The beauty of his words has never been questioned, but the amount of subjects covered in “Bone On Bone” shows that once the creative juices were flowing, they were unstoppable.

The understated, somewhat eerie opening to “States I’m In” give way to a wonderful piece of modern singer-songwriter work, recalling the recent output of countryman Stephen Fearing,” it boasts a deceptively catchy hook.

Eager it seems to confound expectations here, “Stab At Matter” is light, airy and Dylan-esque, before its harsh chorus kicks in, and there is a gorgeous, folky feel to “40 Years In The Wilderness” which is one of a clutch of songs to feature the voices of fellow worshippers at his local church.

Amongst the many highlights is the blues infused “Café Society” – which simply comments on those who gather in the coffee shops, “hey, it’s a way to start the day” offers Cockburn, before a trumpet solo takes this into a jazz area.

A necessarily wordy record – Cockburn, like other great songwriters has a lot to say in these stories – finds the time for an instrumental, interestingly it’s title track, while the Accordion makes “Mon Chemin”.

An activist all his life, Cockburn directly addresses environmental concerns on “False River” and does so in a song that benefits entirely from its strange time structure. He is an artist too that has frequently concerned himself with spiritual matters and his relationship with Christianity, the Gospel affair “Jesus Train” does that here.

“Bone On Bone” ends with another that explores the spiritual, “Twelve Gates To The City” though, is a timeless slice of fingerpicking blues.

To talk of Bruce Cockburn running out of things to say seems almost ridiculous. Nevertheless, the man himself said he was questioning his future. In that context, “Bone On Bone” is remarkable. Whatever self-doubt there was, however, will surely be ended by the sheer class here.

Rating 8/10