Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu
Here we have many sides of Bruce Cockburn, who has absorbed weird, wonderful ethnic and emotional overtones for a new synthesis that appeals beyond even his earlier work we’ve so loved. The music’s sometimes pure instrumental magic, and sometimes the lyrics add complicated thought patterns. Nothing so obvious as his hit, “If I Had a Rocket Laucher,” yet the angst at a depraved world where children are left to starve in faraway countries while America carries a huge food surplus subsists.
The definite French influence here (all the lyrics appear in French and English) could come from the New Orleans references throughout. Nuance plays such a strong role here, as when Cockburn sings, “that was the straw/ That broke me open” on the cut “The Last Night of the World,” where he can think of nothing better to end it all than “…champagne with you.”
There are strong emotive moments here, on this beautiful acoustic cut, “Isn’t That What Friends Are For,” as much as anywhere. Cockburn sings, “I would crush my heart and throw it in the street/ If I could pay for your choice… (we) glimpse only sometimes the/ Amazing breadth of heaven.” Lucinda Williams, whose harmony vocals provide a strong and lovely foundation throughout, is especially well-deployed here.
A bit of buzzy distorted electric guitar provides the hook for the opening track, “When You Give it Away,” on which a jazzy trombone is added by Stephen Donald, and a lovely backing vocal is provided by Lucinda Williams, whose dulcet tones permeate the song. “Slid out of my dreams like a baby out of the nurse’s hands on to the hard floor of day/ I’d been wearing O.J.’s gloves and I couldn’t get them off,” Cockburn sings. A truly interesting menage of musique.
I could’ve done without the poignant rendition of “Blueberry Hill,” but it’s quite well played and sung nevertheless. On the next cut, “Let the Bad Air Out,” Cockburn’s tilting at the world’s windmills with his trademark blood-boiling style: “Can’t picture tomorrow/ Can’t remember yesterday/ Send out for the Black & Decker/ And the psychiatric couch.”
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