Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

March 19, 2011

Bruce Cockburn ~ Humans

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Style: folk rock, world rhythms, Canadian
Label: Columbia
Year: 1980
Home: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Members: Bruce Cockburn ~ guitar/vocals/dulcimer
Bob Disalle, Benbow ~ drum
Bernie Pitters, Patricia Cullen, Jon Goldsmith ~ keyboards
Dennis Pendrith, Tony Hibbert ~ bass
Pat La Barbera ~ reeds
Brian Leonard ~ percussion
Hugh Marsh ~ violin
Murray McLauchlan, Rachel Paiement, Leroy Sibbles ~ b. vocals

Canadian icon Cockburn started his career as a folksy singer-songwriter with a strong Christian message, which was eventually tucked in the mix to distance himself from the American Christians, only to eventually move in a new direction with world rhythms & a socially conscience/critical lyrical position that found a climax with both fans & critics both then & now with 1980's simply titled Humans. It fully brought together everything he'd been experimenting with from the world beats to the Christianity to the folksy laid back sound along with a heavy criticism of the disfunctionality of society & its institutions. But, unlike many similiar themed albums,
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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