Nothing Left to Prove


Slice O Life
, Bruce Cockburn (True North Records)

So what has Cockburn left to prove? Surely being a world revered singer songwriter, guitarist, political activist, seeker for meaning, and all round good bloke should be enough. Do we need another album, indeed a collection of mainly older pieces reworked in a live setting?

Well the answer after listening to Slice O Life
is undoubtedly yes. This solo live cd is an intimate side of the artist that we have not been privy to outside of his gigs for a long time. What keeps coming through on this is despite the awards that have been bestown  on Cockburn throughout the world - especially outside of the UK - that we have a person whose talents are bigger than his ego. Also he has a guitar style that even allowing for the marvels of modern digital delay and echo still sound at times that there suggest that he is not alone. It sounds like the man has gone almost full circle - if it were not for the obvious size of the audience through the volume of applause that greets each number - Bruce could be In a folk club. But I assure you, he aint.

He is now nearly 64 years old now has a look that suggests that his age is something that he is coping well with. When many folk of that age are looking forward to the bus pass and an easy time Bruce seems to be enjoying himself. Whilst that sense of humour has always been there for those of us who have been able to catch his live shows, I think the humour has always been evident,sometimes though due to the subjects of the songs, it has not always been evident on albums. The one example that does knock this argument is when he closes Bruce Cockburn Live
from his 1989 tour with the Monty Python anthem 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'

 He seems totally at ease with the audience and enters into ready conversation and a quick retort and banter to the comments that we are able to pick up on through the recording.

For Fans new and old there are plenty of goodies on this selection. 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' sounds as fresh with this solo version as a fresh thing just picked from a fresh place. It seems very poignant that we are still in a dangerous time - just a different danger than when Bruce first released this track after in 1988 on the Stealing Fire
album. The story goes that he wrote this and the powerful 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher' (also on this collection) a year earlier, after visiting refugee camps that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present.

When Cockburn sings 'Tibetan Side of Town', not only can I picture the environment, he is exploring, but I want to be with him going drinking. If I was to, I suspect that a good time would be had by all.

I guess it is true for most guitarists who trace their roots, but I feel that Bruce is just one step ahead of the blues.  Not in a corny twelve bar, three chord fashion, but in a sophisticated feeling way. As a guitarist, he is considered among the world's best. The New York Times called Cockburn a 'virtuoso on guitar', while Acoustic Guitar magazine placed him in the esteemed company of Andres Segovia, Bill Frisell and Django Reinhardt. With Slice O Life, all of Cockburn's formidable gifts are on full display.

But on this album we get to hear some things that we would not hear at a gig. There are some extracts from soundchecks. A brave and commendable inclusion.

So If you think that Slice O Life
is going to be akin to a slice o cake, a quiet sit down and let Bruce reach for that bus pass. Bad luck. Slice O Life will grab you and move you, and make us think Cockburn is reaching for the boarding pass

     Alan West 2009