August 3, 2006

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Bruce Cockburn, Life Short Call Now
Rounder Records, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah lobbing rockets at one another couldn’t have happened at a better time for Bruce Cockburn. His music has always been laced with vague references to the seedy and violent underbelly of international relations, and a Middle East crisis breaking out just days before a CD release must’ve gotten his fan base riled up.

The middle of the CD is a pretty good political rant, in fact. “This is Baghdad” is the most obvious about it, painting dusty images of the war in Iraq. Written in April 2004, just a year after the American invasion, the content hardly seems fresh after another two years of suicide bombings, insurgent attacks and left/right name-calling. It’s easy to pick out the distaste Cockburn, a Canadian, has for George W. Bush, but he also takes a shot at his home country in “Slow Down Fast,” where he seems to be contending for the Michael Stipe Throw Lots Of Current Events Terms Into Verses And Sing ‘Em Real Fast Award. “CSIS won’t you tell me what you’ve got on me?” he asks, presumably referring to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

The middle section is bookended by two instrumentals, “Peace March,” which is nice but probably won’t be replacing “Stars and Stripes Forever” anytime soon, and “Jerusalem Poker.” A third instrumental, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” ends the album, and the wordless tunes are arguably the best of the bunch — probably not what a songwriter poet wants to hear. This is due just as much to uncharacteristically clumsy lyric writing — many song titles are repeated once or twice to make up refrains — as to sub-par singing. Cockburn’s never been a silver-tongued, perfect-pitch crooner, and that usually works for him, but when he went for the Chris Martin Sing Half The Song In Falsetto For No Apparent Reason Award in the otherwise lovely “Beautiful Creatures,” I couldn’t help giggling.

The last couple tunes are more personal, and because they’re not trying to be grand and important, they work much better. B-

— John “jaQ” Andrews


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