Laughs are in short supply on the average Bruce Cockburn disc. He's a serious fellow, whether he's addressing personal concerns or global issues. But he's gotten away with dourness for decades, thanks to a handful of specific, and very impressive, skills; his lyrics are extremely precise and often poetic, and his vocals exude gravity that can turn grave at the turn of a phrase. These qualities are present in abundance on Life Short Call Now, his latest album -- and the 29th of his career. With help from Ani DiFranco, Ron Sexsmith and a 23-piece orchestra, Cockburn excels on "Beautiful Creatures," which is as gorgeous as its title implies, and "This Is Baghdad," a gently intense anti-war effort marked by couplets such as "Carbombed and carjacked and kidnapped and shot/How do you like it, this freedom we bought?" Cheerful it's not, but Cockburn, who's joined by Sarah Harmer for both of his local dates, doesn't need to generate gags to get by. Although a smile every now and then wouldn't hurt.
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