You’ve Never Seen Everything
Bruce Cockburn has been cranking out literate, often impeccably crafted folk-rock for more than three decades now and in the process creating an impressive canon of music that touches on the political, spiritual and personal. Now it’s 2003, and for his first album of the new millennium, the Canadian singer-songwriter is suitably pissed off. “Brand new century / private penitentiary,” he sings on the jazzy “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-like “Trickle Down.” A jazz influence also informs the delicate piano and guitar ballad “Everywhere Dance,” which was co-written with pianist Andy Milne. “And we cry out for grace to lay truth bare / The dance is the truth and it’s everywhere,” he sings. Besides the jazz touches here, Cockburn also dabbles in world beat sounds as on the electric violin-tinged “Open” and the hypnotic, Middle Eastern-sounding “Wait No More.”
Cockburn seems to comment on events of the last few years in songs like “All Our Dark Tomorrows.” “The village idiot takes the throne,” he sings. “His the wind in which all must sway / All sane people, die now / Be lifted up and carried away / You’ve got no home in this world of sorrows.”
With “Postcards From Cambodia” on the other hand, Cockburn imparts seemingly random information in a spoken word monotone against a noodle-y, repetitive backing. At nearly seven minutes, the term self-indulgent does come to mind. But that track only prepares you for the nine-minute-plus title track, which offers more spooky spoken word stuff. Fortunately it’s easy to program the CD player to skip those tracks.
With more than 30 years and 27 albums of experience behind him, Cockburn is occasionally more impressive than actually engaging. But he makes up for his pretentious moments on more optimistic tunes here like the brushes-on-the-snare ballad “Celestial Horses,” which features the album’s best melody. “There’s a darkness in the canyon / But the light comes pounding through / for me and for you.” On another track, he reminds us “Amid the clangor and the dislocation / And things to fear and to forgive / Don’t forget about delight.” The album capper “Messenger Wind” is bouncier still and ends with these words: “Messenger wind swooping out of the sky / Lights each tiny speck in the human kaleidoscope / With hope.”
You’ve Never Seen Everything is not an easy album but then again, these aren’t easy times. Nevertheless Cockburn’s erudite take on the world and all its evils and wonders is always welcome.