Slice O Life: Live Solo
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5
Written by John Metzger
Wed May 20, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Perhaps, there is nothing more daring that a musician can do than to perform as a solo acoustic act. Standing alone on stage, an artist is left to take all of the credit for the success of a show. On the other hand, there is no one else to blame for the missteps from which even the most seasoned souls can suffer. It is not an easy feat to captivate an audience with a single song, let alone during a two-hour extravaganza. Yet, some veterans seem compelled to live the life of a troubadour.
Over the years, Bruce Cockburn has toured with a variety of different backing bands. He also has spent a great deal of time performing with only the sound of his guitar to support him. Considering the hushed atmospherics of many of the songs in his canon, his music arguably is suited perfectly for this type of framework. In fact, his devoted followers have been waiting a long time for him to pull the trigger on releasing a solo acoustic concert recording. Unfortunately, although Slice O Life most certainly will whet their appetites, it wonít satisfy them completely because it isnít quite the definitive collection that they have been seeking.
The problems that plague Slice O Life occur almost entirely within its second act. The collection is a composite of shows that Cockburn performed last year, but despite its careful construction, which is designed to simulate the experience of a single concert, the outing ultimately tries to do too much. As a result, Slice O Life not only falls short of its target, but also the diminished intensity of its latter half undermines the overall focus of the effort. At this stage of the game, If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Tie Me at the Crossroads are more serviceable than they are transcendent, while The City Is Hungry, the lone new tune on the album, is considerably less developed and entrancing than some of the other material that Cockburn delivers. Even worse, the extracts from a soundcheck that are tacked onto the conclusion of Slice O Life meander to the point where they leave the endeavor with the inauspicious illusion that it is less satisfying than it really is.
Although Slice O Lifeís second disc doesnít make a tremendous impression, fans ought not to ignore the set entirely. In fact, judged solely upon its opening 12 tracks, the album easily ranks among the best outings in Cockburnís canon. The recordingís crisp clarity captures the pristine, finger-picked patterns that he plays on his guitar, and as the rippling notes unite, they cast beads of sunlight across the troubled waters of World of Wonders. Elsewhere, the circular, rhythmic pulse that drives his material adds layers of pensiveness and gravity to cuts like See You Tomorrow, Last Night of the World, and The End of All Rivers. It should not be surprising, then, that these tracks surround Slice O Lifeís highlights.
Cockburn long has preferred to work in the shadows. There, he can search for light in the darkness and find it in the strangest of places. His songs fare best, too, when his accompaniments reveal the flickers of hope that gleam brightly when they are viewed from the proper angle. As Cockburn conjures images and paints vivid scenes with his lyrics, the sound of his guitar helps not only to shade but also to bend the mood of his material, sometimes pulling it in opposing directions. The rendition of How I Spent My Fall Vacation featured on Slice O Life offers a prime example of how well he simultaneously can capture heartbreak and optimism within a single moment. Likewise, on Tibetan Side of Town, an ominous rumble burrows deeply beneath the melody, while his guitar solo unlocks a series of secret doors and passageways that ultimately leads to a sense of salvation. Anyone who has seen Cockburn in concert can attest to his power to mesmerize a crowd. Within these tracks ó as well as the subsequent Pacing the Cage ó Slice O Life approaches the intimate intensity of his performances, which brings the listener, however briefly, as close to being there as possible. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Slice O Life: Live Solo is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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