Bruce Cockburn Rarities
Rarities (Digital Only Release)
For fans who cannot get enough of Bruce Cockburn’s music (this writer being one of them), the artist is releasing Rarities, sixteen rarely heard and newly mastered recordings for digital only consumption. These include two previously unreleased songs that are not included on the Rumours Of Glory limited-edition box set, and four remastered tracks that only appeared on tribute compilation albums dedicated to Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, Mississippi Sheiks and Mississippi John Hurt. The two songs that did not appear in the box set are “Twilight On The Champlain Sea” featuring Ani DiFranco, originally intended to be on Life Short Call Now and used on the Japan-only release; and 1966’s “Bird Without Wings,” the oldest Cockburn demo from his personal vault, later recorded by Ottawa’s 3’s A Crowd and produced by The Mamas & the Papas’ Mama Cass.
The really optimistic seekers would hope to find songs as memorable as “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Wondering Where the Lions Are” but, not surprisingly that kind of fare is not here. Yet, in songs that span 1966 to 2016, we do gain further insight into Cockburn’s amazing artistry. Most of these are solo renditions with full band present on the tribute numbers and one or two others. On the opening instrumental “Juan Carlos Theme” Cockburn is accompanied by his wife, Janice Powers, on keys. It is from the 2001 film The Man We Called Juan Carlos and is followed by another soundtrack with heavy drum programming – “Waterwalker Theme” from the 1984 film Waterwalker, this one with Cockburn’s vocals and from his same peak period as the aforementioned songs in this paragraph’s first sentence. It’s a standout.
“Avalon, My Home Town” finds Cockburn on 12-string and harmonica and Powers on keys in an alternative version than the one that appeared on 2001’s Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt. The guitar playing, needless to say, is superb. “Wise Users” is a duet performance with a deeply emotional vocal and the haunting violin of Hugh Marsh of the song originally released on Honor: A Benefit For The Honor The Earth Campaign (1996). “Going Down the Road” is another soundtrack cut from the 1970 film of the same name, Cockburn delving a warm folk guitar and vocal solo. “The Whole Night Sky” and “Grinning Moon” are solo performances, dating to 1995, the former of which had a final version on his 1996 Charity of the Night. Both are indicative of his style during this period – beautiful stuff, evoking such great Cockburn material as “Coldest Night of the Year,” especially the former; the latter of the more haunting quality.
“Song For Touring Around the Stars” was only previously issued i Japan. This 1993 tracks finds Cockburn, keys, and guitar in a rather ethereal, cinematic vein (even though it is not a soundtrack cut). It’s gentle and soothing with one of his patented melodies. “Come Down Healing” is a solo previously unreleased demo from 1995, a dramatic and intense narrative, bluesy in a singular Cockburn way with an amazing guitar solo. “Mystery Walk” is a brief and dark electric guitar instrumental soundtrack cut from the 2001 film The Man We Called Juan Carlos. We can’t help but think that “The Trains Don’t Run Here Anymore” is inspired by the great Norman Blake tune “The L &N Don’t Run Here Anymore” but there’s little to no resemblance. What there is instead is great cello playing from Anne Davison accompanying Cockburn’s 12-string in this remastered dreamy track originally released on Dancing Alone: Songs of Williams Hawkins (2008). “Ribbon of Darkness” is another remastered track from a tribute album, pairing Cockburn with close collaborator Colin Linden on mandolin, originally released on Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (2003). “Turn, Turn, Turn” is rather obviously from his tribute to Pete Seeger Where Have All the Flowers Gone (1998). The vocals parts aren’t necessarily memorable, but the instrumental intro and guitar parts redeem this cover.
We do have a couple of complete band tracks, the first from the great Steve Dawson produced tribute, Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute To The Mississippi Sheiks (2009). Cockburn plays the acoustic while Dawson has the electric and Weissenborn. The second is the aforementioned “Twilight On The Champlain Sea” featuring Ani DiFranco, originally intended to be on Life Short Call Now and used on the Japan-only release. The album closes with a solo track, 1966’s “Bird Without Wings,” the oldest Cockburn demo from his personal vault, later recorded by Ottawa’s 3’s A Crowd and produced by The Mamas & the Papas’ Mama Cass.
Cockburn’s label, True North, is taking the opportunity on Record Store Day, November 25 to also release vinyl versions of three of his albums on 180g black vinyl: 1999’s Breakfast In New Orleans Dinner In Timbuktu, 1996’s Charity Of Night and the 1970 debut album Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn is of course Canadian, but truly as worthy of a Thanksgiving feast of music as any artist. Dig in.
- Jim Hynes