There must have been a "no bad albums" clause in Bruce Cockburn's contract with True North Records. Nearly 50 years and 33 albums later, Cockburn has yet to release even a less-than-great album. And Bone on Bone, Cockburn's first in six years, stands with the best of his work.
Bone on Bone presents Cockburn's live sound better than any of his previous studio albums. The sound is immediate and polished, a testament to the calibre of the musicians here, and to Colin Linden's production.
Cockburn gives a typically stunning guitar performance. Adapting to the bone-on-bone arthritis referenced in the album's title, Cockburn brings his playing to a new level of accomplishment, proving that time and attrition need not diminish genius and mastery. There may be a few older songs he can no longer play, but this isn't a loss — it's evolution.
It is easy to hear that Cockburn had fun with this record; "3 Al Purdys," a song written for the documentary Al Purdy Was Here, could have been sung by a Muppet Tom Waits. On several tracks, Cockburn fronts a full gospel choir, to rousing effect. Even addressing grim matters, the songs are playful, hopeful and fun. The clever, bluesy "Café Society" offers a compendium of small talk, political rants and lamentations overheard at a coffee shop, while "False River," the one sustained ecological statement on the album, is gorgeous.
Fans of Bruce Cockburn (and that's everyone, right?) will freak out over Bone on Bone. It's his best since Small Source of Comfort. (True North)