Live albums were the thing during the Seventies. Kiss didn’t break into the national consciousness until they put out the double live album, Kiss Alive. Peter Frampton struck gold with Frampton Comes Alive, which was briefly the best selling rock album of all time before being eclipsed by others. Live records were popping up everywhere, but it was rare to find great ones. Kiss and Frampton put forth the template of quality. No matter what stance you have on their particular music, the records did capture them at their best. Most live albums don’t. Either the studio sheen is needed or the audio of the concert is compromised. It’s very tough getting the live concert’s feel of sound and emotion right, which is one of many reasons that bootleg taping of shows, is generally frowned upon. So great live albums are a rarity. Bruce Cockburn’s 1977 double album Circles In The Stream is an example of a live recording documenting a performer at a peak in their career. In fact the record is considered by many to be his all time best album. As Jerry Lee Lewis – Live At The Star Club, is to Lewis fans, Circles In The Stream is to Cockburn fans.
Bruce Cockburn had a “folkie/jazzy group” that he considered his first band with him when he played Massy Hall, Toronto on April 8th and 9th, 1977. There was Robert Boucher – bass, Pat Godfrey – electric piano, marimbas, and vocals, P.M. Doug Mackay – bagpipes, Bill Usher – percussion and voice, and Bruce played acoustic and electric guitars, dulcimer, and of course, he sang. The Rounder reissue includes all 17 tracks from the original album, including the between song stage patter which is very important to hard core Cockburn fans. An import version of this album from a few years back contained all of the songs, but none the between song stuff and it was panned for that reason.
Circles In The Stream is also the only place you will get to hear the songs “Cader Idris”, “Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror”, and “Homme Brulant.” The performance does not sound dated; one advantage to playing folk and jazz influenced music. There is brilliance, nuance, and silliness to be found as Cockburn plays a wide ranging set of material. If the ultimate aim of a live album is to create the fiction of a concert right in your living room, Circles In The Stream succeeds nicely there. It also serves as a comprehensive overview of Cockburn’s career to that point. It’s just the first of many peaks in a long and varied musical life that shows no sign of slowing down. Cockburn’s music is like the cover illustration – dropped into the water producing ever expanding circles of creativity and joy.