Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn's tuneful folk-pop is notable for both its restrained tastefulness and its author's humane decency. Whether incorporating eclectic world-beat influences (as on his 1980s records) or working from a country-blues foundation with the help of producer T-Bone Burnett (on 1991's Nothing but a Burning Light and the new Dart to the Heart), there's little that's excessive, portentous, or loud in his music. Instead, you find sturdy, low-key songs with lovely melodies and subtle embellishments--an understated harmony here, a subdued organ accompaniment there, a twangy guitar part if he's feeling rowdy. Amid these settings he addresses such concerns as the environment, human rights, and (increasingly) love and mortality, arguing with quiet conviction for more reverent treatment of the earth and its inhabitants. He has his shortcomings: his well-intentioned lyrics too often lapse into bad poetry, and his reserve can make you hungry for more audacious music pretty quickly. In concert, however, Cockburn is a thoroughgoing pleasure: his presentation--pacing, sound mix, arrangements, supporting musicians--is as impeccable as it is on his albums, and his performing tends to get more energetic, even playful. This enthusiasm, in combination with his agreeable personality, makes it easier to forgive his preciousness. Who knows, you might even find yourself inspired. Saturday, 6:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 275-6800 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dana Tynan.