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Music: No more confusion

Music | Rockers show spiritual healing and backsliding from liberalism

Issue: "Ashcroft 2000?," Oct. 11, 1997

During the '80s, when everyone from Bob Dylan to Al Green was embracing Christ and recording gospel songs, no gospel-friendly rock icon inspired more delight and confusion among critics and fans than the Celtic soul man, Van Morrison.

"The healing has begun," he sang in 1979 on Into the Music, and to make sure no one confused this "healing" with a quick fix, he let the statement reverberate until his 1987 Poetic Champions Compose, when he asked the follow-up question, "Did ye get healed?" Now, with The Healing Game, he revisits the concept and comes up with the following insight: True healing comes from the laying down of burdens.

So when he sings, "Too busy thinkin' 'bout this weight" ("This Weight"), he doesn't mean the caloric kind, and when he sings a song called "Waiting Game," he means the "weighting" game as well. For that matter, "Burning Ground"-a song devoted explicitly to burden disposal-is both sharp and playful.

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Following closely in the playfulness department are the misanthropic "It Once Was My Life" (which accentuates the negative with a good-timey lilt swiped from "Under the Boardwalk") and the title cut (which deflates its pomposity with carefully deployed doo-wop vocals). Finally, the youthful Brian Kennedy has all but replaced the journeyman Georgie Fame as Mr. Morrison's vocal foil, simultaneously freeing Mr. Morrison from trying too hard and from not trying hard enough.

The result? The loosest Van Morrison album in over a decade and proof that mystic inquiry needn't end in turgid brooding.

Bruce Cockburn was another musician in whom Christians once invested a lot of hope-that is, until an unbecomingly naive obsession with eco-socialism and "liberation theology" nearly destroyed his gift.

The Charity of Night, Mr. Cockburn's 19th studio album in 28 years, marks a return to the jazzy folk rhythms and stream-of-consciousness lyrics of his 1979-1983 peak. Back is the religious mysticism, gone the socialist propaganda. Only "The Mines of Mozambique" functions as agitprop. The other 10 songs represent Mr. Cockburn's latest efforts to translate his spiritual quest into songs that even people who don't fear the ozone hole can undulate to.

Several fail. The title song, for instance, consists of Mr. Cockburn mumbling lines such as "Love pounds in veins brains buzzing balls of lust," lines that prove he doesn't need the charity of night so much as the charity of a producer who will point out a bad line when he hears one.

"Night Train," however, belongs in the Cockburn canon. With Rob Wasserman's elastic bass lines creating the illusion of motion, the song chugs along nicely. Equally pleasant is "Mistress Of Storms," a Cockburn-Gary Burton guitar-and-vibes instrumental that recalls 1976's "Giftbearer." Elsewhere, sun imagery predominates, meaningfully ironic in an album about night, and a sign-along with the Psalm 23 paraphrase "Strange Waters"-that Mr. Cockburn may have reconnected with the better angels of his nature.


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