February 2007

Bruce Cockburn - Life Short Call Now
Rounder 11661-3244-2
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Joseph Taylor

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

Longtime fans of Bruce Cockburn won’t be surprised to hear that he sings about war, pacifism, spirituality, and the degradation of the environment on his new disc Life Short Call Now. Cockburn’s interest in political matters ensures that articles about him invariably refer to him as an activist, but he has earned the title honestly. His concerns about human-rights abuses, for example, have led him to travel widely over the years to research the complex circumstances that underlie his songs of protest. Cockburn’s politics are undoubtedly left of center, and on Life Short Call Now, he paints a picture of a world out of control. Yet his skills as a songwriter and lyricist will give even those who disagree with him something to think about.

Life Short Call Now contains two songs about the war in Iraq, and one, "This Is Baghdad," contains some stunning descriptions of the city during wartime:

Uranium dust and the smell of decay
Sewage in the street where the kids run and play
Not enough morphine and not enough gauze
Firefight in the darkness like a snapping of jaws.

A moving string arrangement and a sorrowful melody help to bring home Cockburn’s message.

As always, Cockburn’s guitar playing is masterly, and he is accompanied by an impressive group of musicians. My only gripe is that the sound on the disc is somewhat compressed, and I feel certain the original recordings had more dynamic range. A shame, since Life Short Call Now is a fine disc by a musician who could coast on his reputation but continues to challenge himself -- and us.