Delicate Cages, the fourth album in six years by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Jon Brooks, is an ambitious examination of some of the various “cages” of the human condition – some of them literal, some metaphorical, some of them based on real people, others drawn from the artists’ imagination, all of them, in one way or another, insisting that we look at the world, or, at least a small slice of it, through someone else’s eyes.
The ethos of the album is established in “Because We’re Free,” the opening song in which the narrator reflects on a series of natural disasters and human-caused catastrophes and questions why God didn’t prevent or alleviate such occurrences. The answer comes in the songs title which is repeated at the end of each chorus.
Among the most powerful songs are two that are based on real people.
“Son of Hamas,” was inspired by the book, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices, the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of a founder of the Islamic terrorist organization who worked clandestinely over a period of years to prevent terrorism. The song is a glimpse into the life of a heroic young man viewed as a traitor by his own family.
“The Lonesome Death of Aqsa Parvez,” is the story of a teenaged victim of a so-called honour killing, at the hands of her father and brother, which took place in a Toronto suburb in 2007.
The most infectious song is “Hudson Girl,” essentially a love song for Jon’s wife. But, it’s a love song with political overtones when the second verse explains that Jon’s Hudson girl, as a child moving with her family, was among those driven out of Quebec by Bill 101, the repressive language law – Jon gives thanks to Bill 101 in the song for delivering his wife to him.
Although many of these songs deal with difficult subject matter – and kudos to Jon’s fearlessness in tackling such material with the right mix of honesty and sensitivity – the album’s ultimate message is one of hope when Jon explains in “There Are Only Cages,” the penultimate track, that there is a good cage, “the cage of freedom” and “this cage of freedom is love.”
The album ends, with Jon by himself at the piano, playing a contemplative instrumental reprise of “Because We’re Free.”
Pictured: Jon Brooks and Mike Regenstreif at the 2010 Ottawa Folk Festival.