Canada’s Bruce Cockburn is still making waves with his brand of independent music, writes Subhadra Devan
BRUCE Cockburn sings of politics, environment degradation, love and spiritual discovery in his 31st album, Small Source Of Comfort.
Recently up for honours at the 11th Independent Music Awards (given out last month) in the folk singer-songwriter category, the Ottawa-born, who was made an Officer Of The Order Of Canada in 2002, has received 13 Juno awards and was inducted into the Canadian
Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2002.
“It’s gratifying to know that people in the business are still paying attention,” says the 66-year-old about the many awards he has won. “In general, I take things like awards lightly,” says the artiste who sang about green issues, before Earth Day (April 22) was officially born (in 2009).
“I feel it’s my job to write about life as I experience it. That includes the spiritual, the political, all aspects of human behaviour.
“I suppose the audience for that is people like me, who prefer their entertainment to have some substance to it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating love and dancing, but it’s not all there is,” says Cockburn whose music can be found on iTunes.
Cockburn lost out to Elliott Brood for the Folk/Singer-Songwriter category at the Independent Music Awards which honours exceptional independent artistes traditionally ignored by mass media and big box retailers.
Produced by Music Resource Group, publisher of the popular industry networking database, The Musician’s Atlas, and producers of the webTV series, Grooveable Feast, the IMA nominees in over 70 song, album, music video and design categories are culled from thousands of online submissions from North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe every year.
On the judges panel are influential industry people and artistes including the Rolling Stones’ founder Keith Richards, folk-rocker Suzanne Vega, jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, rapper-composer Michael Franti, and heavy metal exponent Ozzy Osbourne.
On remaining an independent artiste, Cockburn says: “When I first sought a record deal, I was very concerned about keeping creative control of my work. That has not changed, but really I think I have continued to record for True North Records because the arrangement just keeps working.”
Small Source of Comfort, under the label True North, stays true to Cockburn’s musical style — a bit of rock, folk, jazz and blues. Some of his songs were inspired by his travels which included the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan which brought out the gypsy-like instrumental piece, Comets Of Kandahar.
That piece is one of five instrumental pieces on the album. Says Cockburn: “When I’ve put together enough music to fill a CD, we start recording. What the nature of that music is, whether it’s songs or instrumental pieces, is largely circumstantial.
“In this case there happened to be the five wordless pieces available. I wondered at first whether the album should include so many, but in the end everything seemed to work well together, so there they are.”
Cockburn’s spiritual side is heard on the opening track, The Iris Of The World, and the closer, Gifts, written in 1968 but recorded for the first time for Small Source Of Comfort.
The album also features Brooklyn-based violinist Jenny Scheinman, Annabelle Chvostek, a Montreal-based singer-songwriter, bassist Jon Dymond, and drummer Gary Craig.
I am intrigued by the song, Call Me Rose, which Cockburn writes about former American president Richard Nixon. He sings: “My name was Richard Nixon only now I’m a girl/ you wouldn’t know it but I used to be the king of the world/ compared to last time I look like I’ve hit the skids/ living in the project with my two little kids.”
Cockburn says of his career: “I feel very good about the way my career, for want of a better word, has gone.”
On younger artistes following his “legacy”, he says: “I run across good music from younger artistes all the time. There are so many good ones it’s hard to pick one or two. Tinariwen, Crooked Still, Ani Di Franco, Eliza Gilkyson... these are a few, not necessarily young, but younger artistes I like. I mostly listen to jazz or music from other cultures.“
After the awards which ended last week, Cockburn says he’s supposed to be writing a memoir, “the first draft of which is overdue”.
Find out more about Bruce Cockburn on www.brucecockburn.com or at True North Records. Details on Independent Music Awards at www.independentmusicawards.com. Submissions for the 12th Annual IMAs close in October.