Life Short Call Now
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 Jul
- Life Short Call Now
- See You Tomorrow
- Beautiful Creatures
- Peace March
- Slow Down Fast
- Tell the Universe
- This Is Baghdad
- Jerusalem Poker
- Different When It Comes to You
- To Fit in My Heart
- Nude Descending a Staircase
For more than 35 years, Bruce Cockburn has built respect as a songwriter with both Christian and secular audiences, and an influence on artists both veteran and rookie. But while two of his albums were recognized by
All of that holds true for
The most blatant examples come in the album's second half. Cockburn angrily—and with one profanity—takes aim at President Bush in "Tell the Universe" for what he considers unjustified use of power and violence: "You've been projecting your sh-- at the world/Self-hatred tarted up as payback time … Tell the world where you've been with your bloodstained shoes and your dunce's grin." That tirade is followed by "This Is Baghdad," questioning the price of freedom by turning a city into a war zone, as well as the use of military force without an exit strategy. Rounding out this political suite is smooth jazz instrumental "Jerusalem Poker."
In addition to the one profanity noted above and the animosity directed at Bush, there are also some references to sexual desire in "Different When It Comes to You." The folksy ballad is sweetly romantic in feel, but includes these lines: "I don't want to go home tonight/I want to turn loose my lust/I want you to squeeze me tight/Do the things that we discussed." However, it's not entirely clear from the other lyrics whether Cockburn is giving in to those feelings (the literal interpretation), or resisting them by embracing a higher power (the poetic interpretation)—"I bring you my broken self with zero hidden from your view/I don't usually do that but it's different when it comes to you."
Those potential stumbling blocks aside, the remainder of
Yet despite the violence and despair, "See You Tomorrow" offers a hopeful perspective that can leave a sinful past behind through love. "Mystery" employs simple, old-fashioned folk stanzas to find beauty in the little things—"You can't tell me there is no mystery/It's everywhere I turn … Come all you stumblers who believe love rules/Stand up and let it shine." And in conclusion, Cockburn seems to find peace by using "To Fit in My Heart" to explain things beyond our understanding—"Spacetime strings bend/World without end/God's too big to fit in a book/Nothing's too big to fit in my heart."
It's all delivered with the exquisite blend of folk, pop, rock, and jazz that has characterized Cockburn's sound over his career. Sometimes it's raw ("Slow Down Fast"), sometimes it's more alternative and abstract ("To Fit in My Heart" and the instrumental "Nude Descending a Staircase"). Most of it firmly resides in folk-pop territory, aided by a broad variety of sounds (harmonium, flugelhorn, Maikotron) and guest talent (Ron Sexsmith, Ani DiFranco, Hawksley Workman). There's even a bit of lounge jazz sound in the percussion of "Tell the Universe" and "This Is Baghdad," but the clear highlight is "Beautiful Creatures," in which Cockburn takes his world-weary voice into a mournful falsetto, backed delicately by a lush 23-string orchestra.
This adds up to a powerful expression of fear, anger, and hope due to uncertain times, shared with first-rate songwriting and musicianship. Cockburn proves he's still got it, and exudes a great deal of passion, but does he go too far? That's something that can only be answered individually by listeners in deciding what is "true and noble" as applied to artful self-expression.