Releasing 30 albums is incomprehensible, and even more so when one realizes that the 30th album is also that artist’s first solo live album. Bruce Cockburn is that artist, putting out a double CD, Slice O Life, who attempts to translate the experience of his live shows to audiences at home. Naturally, Cockburn fans will be the most likely to check out this release, but there are some nice touches, as far as live albums go.
The album is pieced together from recordings of ten shows—the liner notes don’t specify which shows these were or the origin of each song. The simple, vocal-and-guitar arrangements help the songs blend together to suggest a single live show, and the spliced format is more successful here than on many live albums which attempt the same thing. There are some slight recording differences that audiophiles will notice, such as Cockburn’s guitar overpowering his voice slightly on certain songs. Splicing also means that the production team had their pick of Cockburn’s anecdotes. It’s somewhat disappointing that there are only three of them on over 2 hours of music, especially since all are brief and “Tramps in the Street”, the sole one on the second disc, couldn’t possibly be one of the three best out of ten live shows. As far as other special features go, the final three songs are from soundchecks rather than concerts. Again, considering the likely audience for Slice O Life contains many Cockburn fans, the soundcheck songs will likely be a highlight, and some more extras in that vein couldn’t hurt.
But any album, live or not, is only as good as the songs on it, and Cockburn delivers his usual exquisite folk songs. The sparse arrangements showcase his deft guitar skills and allow all the rich dimensions of his voice to come through. Cockburn’s voice takes on a Springsteen-like croon at many points, something not heard as sharply on his studio work. Given that this album offers 120 minutes with just a man and his acoustic guitar, it’s easy for the songs to run together a bit. The opening track, “World of Wonders” was well-chosen, and the first disc offers up an aching rendition of “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”, which seems to be an audience favorite as well. The second disc contains the world debut of “The City is Hungry”, a somber number with a light blues inflection that muses on the sense of a lonely place containing a “river wrapped in concrete” and a rainy city that looks like tears. There are more upbeat numbers as well, like the catchy “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “Tie Me at the Crossroads”. This recording of “Put It In Your Heart” is particularly passionate and a definite highlight. Most of the songs tend towards the contemplative, sometimes so much so that the album would benefit from a different sequence; the second disc even puts the eight-minute “Celestial Horses” between two six-minute songs, “If a Tree Falls” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”.
More anecdotes and upbeat numbers would enrich this disc if Cockburn hopes to garner any new fans with this release. But, considering it is his 30th, he probably knows better than any of us and already has all the fans he needs.