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By David Werther.

Bruce Cockburn, Small Source of Comfort (True North, 2011).

           When Bruce Cockburn's manager heard the song "Gifts" on Small Source of Comfort, he asked, "Is there something I should know?" The song prompted the query because decades ago Cockburn said that he would put it on his last album.

           Small Source of Comfort has the feel not of a last "official" Cockburn studio release, but of the first Cockburn "authorized bootleg," a potpourri that forms a whole, not greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike a typical Cockburn release, there are several instrumentals, a few collaborations, and a comic tale of redemption, "Call me Rose." Rose, we learn, is none other than Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother living in projects, trying to make ends meet. Cockburn speculated that such a reversal of fortunes might be required for Nixon to become a better person (given the song's circumstances we can't say "man"). It appears that Richard-Rose Nixon will need to spend more time in karmic purgatory, as the song ends with Rose wondering about the market for her memoirs.

           Far removed from the off-beat comedy of "Call Me Rose" is the lament "Each One Lost." Cockburn, no stranger to war zones, took a trip to Afghanistan to spend some time with Canadian troops, among them his brother, who was serving as a physician. "Each One Lost" was inspired by a "ramp ceremony," the loading of flag-covered coffins onto a plane, headed home. Cockburn ably conveys the pathos of the occasion.

           And, as he often does, in "Gifts" he reveals the wonder of creation. As is fitting for a song Cockburn was saving for his last album, and one that he used to close his shows with, "Gifts" ends the album. In it Cockburn sings of being strengthened by the beauty of creation, "so that we may walk within these walls and share our gifts with you." Bruce Cockburn has been sharing songs for more than four decades; his catalog is much more than a small source of comfort.

(Background sources of this review include:

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