May 25, 1994
Bruce Cockburn, Dart to the Heart (Columbia 1994) -- On his 22nd release, Bruce Cockburn shows why he has been a mainstay on the folk/rock scene for the last quarter-century. Featuring a variety of musical influences, coupled with intelligent lyrics and catchy melodies, Dart to the Heart is an accessible and likeable album.
Dart to the Heart boasts a strong cast that brings out the best in Cockburn. Produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring Greg Leisz (from k.d. lang's band) on pedal steel guitar, Richard Bell on keyboards, and the legendary Jerry Scheff (who has worked with a huge number of musicians, ranging from Elvis Presley to The Doors to Elvis Costello) on bass, Dart to the Heart is ultimately built around Cockburn's strong guitar work and gentle songwriting.
Cockburn admits that he was looking for more melodic hooks on this album. Says Cockburn, "A lot of the songs on [the album] were written in hotel rooms and dressing rooms on the last tour, so they are written on acoustic guitar because that's what I had at the time. When I'm at home and I have my stuff all set up and plugged in, I might break more on the electric . . . It struck me at one point that I had almost no songs a non-musician could just sit around and sing. I'd rather be remembered for having written songs that people could sing at a party or whatever. It seemed like there was a bit of a gap there, and I was trying to address it and still am on the current album."
While the opening cut, "Listen for the Laugh" (which is now receiving local airplay) has a Lou Reed feel in its spare, driving guitar lead, the next cut ("All the Ways I Want You") slips into a folksier groove that is reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot (as is appropriate, considering that Cockburn is also from Canada).
Yet in the end, Cockburn is his own man, heading down the solitary path followed by other guitar-oriented roots rockers such as Graham Parker and Richard Thompson. With the dripping steel guitar of Greg Leisz featured on the slower "Bone in My Ear," and Cockburn's own fingerwork spotlighted on the lovely acoustic number, "Closer to the Light," Cockburn shows that his real forte is as a singer/songwriter in the folk/roots vein.
Cockburn has been around long enough to have truly pondered the big questions of life. In discussing mortality, he says "Death is an inescapable part of life. It is as much a part of life as birth. The things that scare us about death are fear of the unknown or the loss of a loved one, or the fear that our lives will have no meaning. But life and death can't be opposites. If we believe there's any value to life at all, then death in some way must be welcomed. If life has meaning, then death does to."
Which is not to say that Cockburn is on a downer -- he's just intent on exploring the mysteries of life. Dart to the Heart is a terrific album, balancing strong guitar parts and smart songs against a quarter-century of experience in the industry. Find this album.
Acid and Metal Music -- A & M Records, which was named after co-founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, has taken a decidedly different turn in recent times. Following the departure of Alpert and Moss, the label might better be called "Acid & Metal Music." Sporting the heavy sounds of Soundgarden (whose new metal-bender is entitled Superunknown), the new disc from Therapy? called Trouble Gum, and Deep Six, a collection of original recordings from 80s Seattle thrash bands such as Green River, Skin Yard, and the Melvins, it's clear that A & M has turned a corner.
Apparently gone are softer pop artists like Wendy MaHarry (who released a couple of dynamite discs that sank without a trace) and Sheryl Crow (who's still on the talent roster, but who must now feel like a misfit). The label's new releases are sharp and twisted - as Andy Cairns (the singer for Therapy?) says, "We all need struggle. If the world was peaceful and calm and everyone loved each other, it wouldn't be a very interesting place to live, would it?"
From the full frontal guitar assault of Superunknown to the post-industrial shrieks and growls of Trouble Gum, A & M Records appears determined to shed its soft rock image. Say tuned for future details.
Junkhouse, Strays (Epic 1993) -- The Hamilton, Ontario-based quartet that call themselves Junkhouse rock out on their major label debut, Strays. Junkhouse has quickly become a big draw in Canada, and has opened for acts such as Bob Dylan, Midnight Oil, Soul Asylum, and the amazing Daniel Lanois. Strays is electric blues/rock -- long on guitars and drums, short on flash and glitter -- and the disc shows that the band has the real stuff.
The group, consisting of Dan Achen on guitars and vocals, Ray Farrugia on drums, Russ Wilson on bass and vocals, and brother Tom Wilson on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, have a no-nonsense, blue-collar attitude and sound. With guest appearances from Lisa Germano on fiddle, Tim Gibbons on vocals and percussion (don't miss Tim's dynamite debut album, Dead Guy Won a Muffin, which is a real bar-blooz rocker), and Malcolm Burn on keyboards, Junkhouse delivers a rich brew that matches with the best of current Canadian guitar-oriented rock. Long gone are the over-produced days of Rush; instead, these guys deliver a rockin' sound that works as well in your home as it does in a club.
Thus, with songs like "Jesus Sings the Blues" and "Weight on Me Mama," the band sticks to its tried and proven roots -- a solid bottom end and melodies driven by tasty electric guitar riffs. This ain't no punker thrash -- this is good old rock 'n roll. Admittedly, the disc clocks in a little on the long side (at 55 minutes); tracks like "This Old Man's Too Drunk to Drive" (which is a parody on the children's song) could have been left off the album, with no loss of quality.
Strays shows why Epic is the home for today's hottest new rock acts -- the production is clean and unobtrusive, and the rock is strong (but not laced with too much testosterone). Junkhouse rocks -- if you want electric boogie and blues, find this disc.
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
Design by David Anand Prasad and Idea Co.