Take Up Your Load Bruce Cockburn

Take Up Your Load Bruce Cockburn

I have been a fan of Bruce Cockburn since I first heard his album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws in 1979. The album included “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, an addictive song that made it to #21 on the Billboard Top 100. Not exactly a hit, but pretty good for a relatively unknown singer / songwriter from Canada. I picked up the album because I heard “Wondering Where the Lions Are” on the local radio. What amazed me was how good all of the other songs were.

By the time Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws came out, Bruce had released 8 albums, beginning with the self titled Bruce Cockburn in 1970. During his long career, he has written over 300 songs and released 33 albums. Bruce is known as an activist and supporter of the environment, human rights and indigenous people. Many of his lyrics reflect these views as well as his Christianity. Bruce Cockburn has  received many awards and much recognition for his work over the years, including his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and most recently into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame on September 23rd, 2017.

Bruce came out with a memoir in 2014 called Rumours of Glory. I enjoyed reading about his early career, his influences, and his short time at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He describes his songwriting in this passage:

“Through design and circumstance, my songs are multifaceted. They are not just about war, injustice, and exploitation, though these subjects are well represented. They are certainly not just about Jesus, though faith and grace frequently find a place in the lyrics and the tunes themselves. Mystery, beauty, love, pain, joy…the power of a wild place…the power of people to rise above oppression, above pettiness: these are things I have worked to portray. The songs derive from life itself. They’re not a reproduction of life. They’re not an attempt to pin life down. They aught to assume a life of their own.”

I feel that Bruce is not recognized enough for his guitar playing. He uses a fingerstyle approach (no pick) when playing acoustic and electric guitar. He makes great use of guitar effects, without ever going overboard. One of the things I love about his playing are the percussive rhythms that drive the music. His virtuosity on guitar is maybe best showcased on Speechless, his all instrumental album released in 2005.

He is currently touring in support of his latest album, Bone on Bone, released in September of 2017. It is his first album of new material since Small Source of Comfort in 2011. There are 11 songs on the album, and they cover many styles of music. What they all share are Bruce’s compelling rhythms and his signature way with words. One of my favorite songs is “Forty Years in the Wilderness”. A Bruce Cockburn ballad is always a treat, and the chorus is as beautiful as anything he has ever written:

Take up your load
run south to the road
turn to the setting sun.
Sun going down
got to cover some ground
before everything comes undone,
comes undone.

Bruce performs the song on a guitar made by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer, seen in this video of “40 Years in the Wilderness“.

IPhone photo by Roger Miller

Bruce Cockburn is 72 years old, and still performs on a regular basis. I was fortunate to see him perform at the Aladdin Theater in Portland on January 31st. He is touring with a band, which includes Gary Craig on drums, John Dymond on bass, and John Aaron Cockburn (Bruce’s nephew) on accordion, guitar and violin. These performers are also featured on the album.

In concert, Bruce moves slower than he once did; no surprise for a 72 year old performer. You would think that age would also play havoc on his voice, but it is as strong as ever. He can still hit all of the high notes without any effort.

His guitar playing is still breathtaking. My seat was only six rows back from the stage, so I was able to watch his dexterity on the strings. For a guitar junkie like me, it was a treat to see all of the different guitars he used. He played a six string Linda Manzer acoustic, a Fender Stratocaster, twelve string acoustic and electric guitars, a dobro, and a charango, which is a very small 12 string instrument of Andean origin. This was the first instrument made for him by Linda Manzer.

It was a great to hear the new songs performed live. Here is the set list from the show:

1st Set
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
States I’m In *
Forty Years in the Wilderness *
Free to Be
Cafe Society *
Peggy’s Kitchen Wall
If I Had a Rocket Launcher
Strange Waters

2nd Set
Bone on Bone (instrumental) *
Mon Chemin *
The Coldest Night of the Year
Jesus Train *
Wondering Where the Lions Are
False River *
If a Tree Falls
The Gift

Last Night of the World
3 Al Purdys *
Stolen Land

*from Bone on Bone