Life Short Call Now

Life Short Call Now

5.0 3
by Bruce Cockburn

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At times, it seems as if this durable Canadian troubadour is the last of a dying breed: the singer-songwriter who's every bit as stirring when shaking his fist in fury as when offering an open-armed display of affection. Both of those attributes are on vivid display throughout Life Short Call Now, a disc that's steeped in breaking-news commentary -- as…  See more details below


At times, it seems as if this durable Canadian troubadour is the last of a dying breed: the singer-songwriter who's every bit as stirring when shaking his fist in fury as when offering an open-armed display of affection. Both of those attributes are on vivid display throughout Life Short Call Now, a disc that's steeped in breaking-news commentary -- as evidenced by the clipped, unblinking "This Is Baghdad" -- but not to the exclusion of matters of the heart. Cockburn actually pays more attention to the latter here than usual, waxing wistful on the title track -- an on-the-road allegory that ponders how physical distance can translate into emotional gaps -- as well as the poignant "Different when It Comes to You," a sweetly guileless attempt to convince a loved one that he's interested in more than just a physical rush. Last year's vocal-free compilation Speechless proved that Cockburn doesn't even need to open his mouth to command attention -- something he reaffirms through Life Short's passel of diverse instrumentals, which range from the serpentine "Peace March" to the eerie, electronic closer, "Nude Descending a Staircase." Those interludes provide a fine counterbalance to Cockburn's typically intense stance, as do the cinematic orchestrations that pepper the disc, but they never dilute it. That ensures that Life Short Call Now will leave an indelible mark.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Bruce Cockburn displayed his aesthetic restlessness with his instrumental album Speechless in 2005. Those who have followed his career over the past four decades wondered where he would go next, or indeed if there was anywhere he could go. The question has been answered in spades on Life Short Call Now. Along with his regular band, Cockburn has employed an orchestral 27-piece string section to expressionistically color a good number of these 12 songs with help from producer Jon Goldsmith. Lyrically, Cockburn has returned to the terrain he alone inhabits: intimate observations of the personal, the spiritual, the sociopolitical and environmental concerns. As is also his wont, there are no sloganeering anthems in these songs. From the title track that opens the album, he looks across the Montreal landscape and observes it, not in a journalistic way, but as someone inside it, and asks poignantly. "Can one man fit in a normal life?" The solitary person in the midst of unions, holy and unholy, can find no way to properly say goodbye or welcome. Ani DiFranco sings backing vocals on "See You Tomorrow," where Cockburn turns the tables on himself as he observes a mercenary, and though he understands the man's empty soul he envies his freedom from guilt to accomplish his task. Isolation in the midst of watching women walk mirrors the pain of sin and of loneliness for the beloved and seeks wholeness which he expresses that beyond "these chains of flesh" there is completion. The gentleness of his approach is also notable. Cockburn isn't raging here, he's expressing the hidden, the unseen, the unspeakable. Check the lovely, languid folk song "Mystery," where he embraces what is unknowable infinitely despite his fear and his hunger for it. A four-piece horn section adorns the mix on the outside, underscoring the questions in the grain of the singer's voice. What happens as the record unfolds is the work of a poet who happens to be a brilliant musician, who has refined his craft not as an aesthete, but as a hands-dirtied participant not only in the process, but in its realization: check the gorgeous falsetto that croons above the swell of strings in "Beautiful Creatures." He asks straight up, from the gut: "When the skin is peeled off it/What is there to say?" And then says it: The beautiful creatures are/going away..." In many ways, there is a tenderness here that Cockburn's listeners haven't encountered since "Humans," where fear, desire, shock, awe and boundless love poured from his songs. And they do so here, too, tempered by a bloody but unbowed veteran of love, despair, spiritual hunger, desolation and the acknowledgement of community. Always a guitar to accompany that voice, always six strings whispering through the singer and carrying him through not only emotions, but scenes, places, times, encounters, to be able to speak clearly and directly, yet softly, with one exception: "This Is Baghdad." Here the observer battles the brokenness inside himself as he observes -- Cockburn spent part of 2004 there -- the mindless destruction for the sake of nothing whatsoever. The display of might by American troops under the guidance of a fearful leader is revealed for what it is: the display of power for its own sake, which is for the sake of nothing. The deep end of the string section hovers around his 12-string, and the hypnotic pulse of Gary Craig's drums. There are three fine instrumentals here as well. "Peace March," is driven by that now-trademark fluid guitar kissed with a brushed snare, a tempered bassline which reveals the refined texture of a master painter. "Jerusalem Poker" with its handclapped percussion is a jazz tune with its syncopated guitar and muted flugelhorn. The album's final cut, too, named for Marcel Duchamp's infamous "Nude Descending a Staircase" is introduced by radio static, and then seamlessly flows into a guitar driven jazz tune with Cockburn playing a Byrdland and doing his best Wes Montgomery as strings shimmer and spiral down; a muted trumpet pushes down on the proceeding as more found sounds carry it--before the final cocking of what seems like a gun as silence abruptly drapes the entire proceeding. Life Short Call Now is absent of metonymy or metaphor; it reports from the inside what is, and what should never be with balance, as well as yearning for convergence.
Hartford Courant - Thomas Kintner
He remains sharply contemplative on his 29th album, "Life Short Call Now," shading forays into political activism and avowals of love alike with subtle lyrical craftsmanship.

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Product Details

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Bruce Cockburn   Primary Artist,Guitar,Vocals
Matthew Brubeck   Cello
Ani DiFranco   Background Vocals
David Buchbinder   Alto Horn
Charles Elliot   Bass
David Hetherington   Cello
Douglas Perry   Viola
David Piltch   Electric Bass,Acoustic Bass
Christopher Redfield   Viola
Ron Sexsmith   Background Vocals
Kevin Turcotte   Trumpet,Flugelhorn,Alto Horn
Julie Wolf   Piano,Accordion,Harmonium,Hammond Organ,Background Vocals,Melodica,fender rhodes,Wurlitzer
Virginia Barron   Viola
Paul Widner   Cello
Paul Neufeld   Sousaphone
Roberto Occhipinti   Bass
Steve Dann   Viola
John Goldsmith   Piano,Celeste,Glockenspiel,fender rhodes,Prepared Piano
Hawksley Workman   Background Vocals
Damhnait Doyle   Background Vocals
Roman Borys   Cello
Jonathan Craig   Viola
Kathleen Kajioka   Viola
Jeewon Kim   Viola
John Marshman   Cello
Scott Suttie   Double Bell Euphonium

Technical Credits

Bruce Cockburn   Composer
Ben Riley   Composer
Jeff McMurrich   Engineer
Julie Wolf   Composer
Steve Lucas   Composer
Jonathan Goldsmith   Producer,String Arrangements,String Conductor

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Life Short Call Now 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
greybeige More than 1 year ago
i've followed Bruce Cockburn's work since the late 1970's......sometimes joyously.........sometimes reluctantly......but always with the admiration of his gifts. Like a former poster, I wated several years to purchase and listen to "Life Short Call Now". It is a gorgeous album in typical Cockburn fashion that gloriously entertains, challenges points of view, and makes one wonder how all this fabulous magic gets done. Love it!
Guillermolarsoni More than 1 year ago
I don't know why I waited so long to buy this album. It's a great Bruce Cockburn album as they all are. I especially like the songs Life Short Call Now, and This Is Baghdad. Bruce's work is always relevant and lasting!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago