Embracing the Shadows

No one can accuse Van Morrison and Bruce Cockburn of being lazy...workaholics maybe, but never lazy. Between the two of them, they've released 50 albums over 30 years. On their latest releases, Morrison's The Healing Game and Cockburn's The Charity of Night, both artists mine the familiar stuff that composes life: trials and tribulations; true love; faith (even when it's tenuous); looking backward, forward, and inward. But with those voices and the rich imagery of their lyrics, another roadtrip with them is not a bad journey to take.

First...oh, these two have voices. I saw Morrison perform at the Guinness Irish Fleadh (which is Gaelic for "festival") in June in New York City. At the end of a long, hot, dusty day, surrounded by more sweaty bodies than I care to remember, I watched this unimpressive figure in a cream suit, straw hat, and black sunglasses wander on to the stage. Then he opened his mouth, and everything from a rumbling growl to a soaring lilt drifted over us. I didn’t care anymore that I was covered in a layer of grime; I just wanted to listen to that voice.

Luckily, Morrison’s Spirit-filled voice can be captured as well (and sometimes better) on his recordings. With his trademark fusion of rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, and the customary appearance of uilleann pipes, the music caresses and elevates the singer’s delivery and the songwriter’s words. Contributions from saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis (formerly of James Brown’s horn section); Irish musicians Brian Kennedy, Phil Coulter, and Paddy Maloney (of Chieftains renown); and longtime band member- organist Georgie Fame infuse a soul into the work. And you can tell they’re having fun doing their jobs.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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