Though Bruce Cockburn's name will not be a new one to most readers of this forum, there are a couple little-known side facts that might provoke an eyebrow or two to raise for a moment and perhaps a small chuckle of mirth to escape from lips. Early in his formative career, Cockburn joined a couple of groups, then went on to form The Flying Circus (eventually renamed Olivus) with a guy named Neil Lillie, who was to leave the ensemble, change his name to Neil Merryweather, and issue a series of LPs under the new surname, later under the full stage name, then in a trio (Merryweather, Richardson & Boers), not to mention a duo (Merryweather & Carey) featuring a singer, Lynn Carey, who formed Mama Lion with Merryweather on bass. She went on to pose for Penthouse magazine and Merryweather kept seeking the big time in a blues and psych-rock basis. Too bad he didn't stick with Cockburn, as Olivus opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in '68…just after Neil departed. Ironic. Oh, and Bruce appeared on Saturday Night Live as well.
Merryweather never went much of anywhere, and his last two tries followed Iron Butterfly's closing LP pair in a synchronous plummet to psychedelic mediocrity. If it's any consolation to him, though, his works are now minor cult items in the collector market and not easy to find. Cockburn, on the other hand, dropped the drug environment and mindbending music, became a Christian, some say a mystic Christian, and began an inexorable climb to ever-widening success. With this release, his ouevre numbers in excess of 30 releases (anthologies included).
Early on, he issued Circles in the Stream, a double live LP, with an excellent backing band, producing a scintillating brace of tracks that helped curry aficionados to an ever deeper appreciation of the man's many talents. Two more live discs arose between then and now, and this is the fourth but his first solo recital live—just Cockburn, a guitar, and an effects unit. What's most surprising is how little has changed over the decades: his voice is confident and clear, lyrics as humanist as ever, and his fingerpicking just marvelous. In fact, all three may well be more polished than before—it's hard to tell with someone eternally at the top of his game. What Slice O Life is, then, is a harkening back to basics, to folkrock rudiments, while looking ever forward, especially in the writer's concern for his fellow man.
Bruce's handling of his axe is so delicate and complex that he lacks not a moment for magical sounds, feathering his distinctive voice in an atmospheric rainbow of sparkling glints and shimmering colors. Nor is his passion difficult to mistake, going from the contemplative to firm admonitions in his biggest hit If I Had a Rocket Launcher (a sentiment and determination the Left could do with a lot more of), convincing the audience of enthusiastic listeners here of the need to not disregard one's milieu or the possibility of crushing the evils surrounding us. A good deal of Cockburn's concerns zero in on being one's own and one's fellow's keeper…as a certain well-known anarchistic individual long ago instructed in Nazareth and thereabouts.
This double-CD, then, is a long immersion in what an individual and his art are capable of and a reminder to never forget that life is lived every moment, as skillfully as can be managed, radiantly if possible. The entire gig is completely engaging, accompanied by a number of spoken insights and humorous asides between cuts, mesmerizing when the composer is in his constantly unfolding troubador personna. The entire affair goes far to resuscitate the essentiality of a single human being pouring himself out to others, standing as an exposition of what's possible if we have the heart and discipline to follow our calling. More importantly, though, it's proof that as the more centered of the Baby Boom generation ages, it's doing so neither quietly nor without reproof for historic wrongs…but also too often, as the composer is quick to point out, without the sigh of introspection.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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