March 1998

Bruce Cockburn - You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance
Rykodisc/True North RCD 10435
Released: 1998

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]This live recording, although only 37 minutes long, has brought me closer to the essence of Bruce Cockburn than anything before. The music on this CD is unrestricted, raw and powerful; there is nothing soft, gentle or sweet about it. The emotional delivery and inflection of Cockburn’s lyrics provide insight into his opinions on matters political.

see the paid-off local bottom feeders,
passing themselves off as leaders,
kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows,
and it’s open for business like a cheap bordello...
and they call it democracy.

Throughout this recording, Cockburn plays his guitar with fiery star quality—sometimes in thrashing style, as he does at 4:28 of "Strange Waters" and, at others times with powerful, passionate finesse as he does throughout the old Cockburn standard "Fascist Architecture" from the 1980 release Humans.

Although the recording quality of this live performance is not distracting, it is not sufficiently clean and refined to warrant categorization as an audiophile product. This may, however, be a function of the performance itself. As I stated before, this is an unrestricted, raw and powerful performance. Hendrix performances were never clean and refined. So what? The soundstaging on the recording is good enough, and there is so much musical value here that this total package far outweighs the sonic limits of the recording itself.

The last track on this CD is "Birmingham Shadows." The song is a poetic anthem about social behavior and expectations. The opening chords of Cockburn’s guitar introduction invoke memories of Neil Young’s "Down By The River." With Steve Lucas on bass and Ben Riley on drums, Cockburn delivers a slick, jazzy two-and-one-half minute musical performance starting at about five minutes into this track. During this passage, the musicians impart a solid, unified, engaging feel to their musical delivery. There is clearly a special, magical thing happening here.

Go ahead...You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance. With this one, it’s more than your money’s worth!