At age 73, with 33 albums and over 300 recorded songs under his belt, veteran troubadour Bruce Cockburn isn't quite as prolific in his recording or touring these days, but he is a long way from being considered retired.
Cockburn's most recent recording was 2017's Bone On Bone, his first album in six years. It earned him his 13th Juno award (for 2018 Contemporary Roots Album of the Year) and a Canadian Folk Music Award, as 2018 Solo Artist of the Year.
Cockburn has been candid about dealing with writer's block a few years back. In a label press release, he explains that “I didn’t write any songs until after my book [his 2014 memoir Rumours of Glory] was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it. There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”
The spur to get him back to songwriting was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late, seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy. That song, “3 Al Purdys,” is a six-minute epic that pays tribute to Purdy’s poetry.
Cockburn explains its genesis this way: “I went out and got Purdy’s collected works, which is an incredible book. Then I had this vision of a homeless guy who is obsessed with Purdy’s poetry, and he’s ranting it on the street. The song is written in the voice of that character. The chorus goes, ‘I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a twenty dollar bill.’ Here’s this grey-haired dude, coat tails flapping in the wind, being mistaken for the sort of addled ranters you run into on the street—except he’s not really ranting, he’s reciting Al Purdy. The spoken word parts of the track are excerpts from Purdy’s poems. After that, once the ice was broken, the songs just started coming.”
As well as appearing on Bone On Bone, Cockburn's song is the lead-off track on The Al Purdy Songbook, a star-studded tribute (on Borealis Records) to the cult hero poet that also features Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer, Doug Paisley, Greg Keelor, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, and more.
The Canadian Music Hall of Famer now lives in the US, and he has retained a large and loyal following there. He recently announced more US tour dates, beginning in Buffalo on May 8 on a short eastern US run. He then has another US tour leg, Sept. 7 to 30. Expected Canadian dates are TBA.