“Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll,” Bruce Cockburn sings on his latest studio album, O Sun O Moon. Smart and catchy, it’s the kind of memorable line—like “gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” from his classic song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”—the world has become used to hearing from Cockburn. An inspired poet and exceptional guitarist, the award-winning artist has spent his entire career kicking at the darkness with songs that tackle topics from politics and human rights to the environment and spirituality. And he’s not letting up. While other singer-songwriters his age are slowing down, Cockburn, on the eve of his 78th birthday, has released a dozen new compositions as powerful as any he’s written. You could even say his songwriting is on a roll as well.
Exquisitely recorded in Nashville with his longtime producer, Colin Linden, O Sun O Moon exudes a newfound simplicity and clarity, as Cockburn focuses on more spiritual than topical concerns this time around, looking back and taking stock. “I think it’s a product of age to a certain extent,” he explains, “and seeing the approaching horizon.” Then, lightening the tone, he adds with a laugh: “I think these are exactly the kind of songs that an old guy writes.” Old or not, Cockburn exhibits a palpable urgency on the opening “On a Roll,” playing a driving resonator guitar with all the vigor of his veteran blues heroes. Similarly “To Keep the World We Know,” one of the album’s few explicitly topical numbers, bristles with Cockburn’s buzzing dulcimer as he and Inuk music star Susan Aglukark, with whom he co-wrote the song, sing about the growing threat of global warming.
Still, most of the songs strike gentler tones, from the jazz sway of “Push Come to Shove” and the folky drone of “Into the Now” to the string-laden “Us All” and the hymn-like “Colin Went Down to the Water.” The latter, one of several songs Cockburn wrote while on a month-long holiday with family on the Hawaiian island of Maui, describes the drowning of a friend. “It’s not about Colin Linden,” Cockburn is quick to point out, “but someone I knew from San Francisco who’d moved to Maui. It was tragic and quite surreal because I got a voicemail message from him when I was in Maui, saying ‘Welcome to paradise,’ and then found out afterward that he’d died.”View Map