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Humans (Deluxe Edition)
This 1980 set by Bruce Cockburn, one of Canada's pre-eminent singer-songwriters, marks a turning point, both lyrically and musically. His songs take on more textures, moving beyond folk into rock with "Tokyo," while embracing reggae on "Rumors of Glory." His political engagement really kicks into high gear, too, with fables like "More Not More" and "How I Spent My Vacation." Not unlike Bob Dylan, Cockburn can be a trenchant social commentator, one who isn't afraid of the acid attack, while maintaining a very positive, frequently spiritual outlook on life. While there's a touch of the personal in "What About the Bond," dealing obliquely with the breakup of his marriage, he looks outside himself on Humans, unafraid to criticize the world and hoping to make it a better place. --Chris Nickson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It still blows me away some 27 years later.
Motown south (Windsor)
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Musically, Bruce continues on the trajectory of incorporating more world influences beyond European, Celtic, that was certainly present on DANCING. While this is not quite as strong as DANCING, it is nonetheless full of terrific songs: the aforementioned "How...", "Tokyo", "Fascist Architecture." Bruce had also by this time assembled a crack band: Hugh Marsh on violin, Dennis Pendrith on bass, Bob Di Salle (who, with Pendrith, came from Murray McLaughlin's remarkable Golden Tractors band)on drums, Kathryn Moses on vocals and reeds, Jon Goldsmith on keyboards. Live, they were formidable! They gave Bruce that push to examine new textures and to take more chances with his own guitarcraft. There is a lot of greta and subtle displays on this disc. The bonus track is a great out-take from the trio tour with Ferguson Jemeson Marsh on Chapman Stick, and Michael Sloski from the Ontario Place concert that was the source material for his live CD of 1989. Perhaps, Rounder will convince True North, Bernie Finkelstein and Cockburn to release a DVD of that show. It was incredible - perhaps the best show I've ever seen in Toronto. In any case, another triumph for the remastering team!
But here, in Humans, you have the insufficient hope of reconcilliation in marriage "Gonna tell my old lady gonna tell my little girl there isn't anything in the world that can lock up my love again." It fell apart anyway, even though it was "sealed in the presence of the father". Here he has to take his estrangement along with his faith and struggle, much as Amy Grant, another Christian songwriter did later in Behind the Eyes. There are the great challenges to faith expressed in Festival of Friends earlier confronting murder, suicide, the guerillas, pulling cars out of rivers, despair..."at at certain point, you can only die." If art is born of agony, here it is. A quarter century later, I can still count on one hand the songwriters who have risen to his equal in moral vision, in insight and in skill. "I wonder if I'll end up like Bernie in his dream
A displaced person in some foreign border town Waiting for a train part hope part myth While the station changes hands
Or just sitting at home growing tenser with the times Or like that guy in "The Seventh Seal" Watching the newly dead dance across the hills Or wearing this leather jacket shivering with a friend While the eye of God blazes at us like the sun
Musically, he's growing with an ensemble here, further experimentations with Reggae, "something shining like gold, but better." The music is ecelectic, world music before there was a name for it. There's intensity even in the ballads, or should they be called slow laments. I could go on, but you can't learn more about this CD without listening.
such as Paul McCartney's Off The Ground, Humans is so laid back it doesn't come as frightening & bonking- on-the-head condemning as one may expect given Cockburn's reputation. Part of this is due to the use of reggae rhythms that Cockburn discovered with a move to Toronto, considering that few expect reggae to accompany anything but political themes. But, while he's undoubtedly an activist he's also a storyteller no different than Jim Croce or Bob Dylan, calling upon the tradition of observation under the guise of harmless folk music. The difference though, besides having the best voice of the three, is that Cockburn is neither a middle-class working man nor a wanna Kerouac-esque bum/poet. Cockburn is a radio friendly balladeer in a way neither of them ever have been except in bits & pieces. Humans is an album of inner turmoil, as the opening "Grim Travellers" belays just with its title & the lines "Ministers meet/work on the movement of goods/also work on the movement of capital/also work on the movement of human beings/as if we were so many cattle" which deftly & quickly maps out for the listener Cockburn's spiritual & social worldview. We find ourselves falling into his welcoming words that sound more like gentle dreams than criticisms. There's no offers of solutions or comforts, just observations of a world falling down but under God's hand. He's not angry, though "More Not More" gets close with its I-can't-take-it-anymore attitude, & is just observing & at times at confused at what's being seen. He has the eye & wit of Dylan but without falling in into the world-play trap of unclear messages. The successive albums would largely follow Humans' template, though Cockburn would later return to his acoustic folk side in the 90's, but the benchmark was set. Though it was recorded in 1980 it sounds as timeless as the problems it observes, largely due to the mix of musical styles including Bernie Worrell-esque funky organ, violin, reggae, soft Joni Mitchell-esque folk, jazz saxophone & even 80's keyboards. Ironically, given all that & Cockburn's personal instrument, the album is unusually light on guitar solos. If you want an introduction to the wonder of Bruce Cockburn start here, & as another reviewer said you'll end up returning here too. I originally wasn't going to review this album as is a bit softer than my normal review choices but after two consecutive listens I couldn't resist not talking about it. Trust me that you'll not be able to put it down.
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