Bob Carty releases album Desert Eyes

By Dennis Gruending

Bob CartyBob Carty is an Ottawa-based journalist best known for his consummate radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but he has another skill as well. He is a fine musician and singer and has released an album called Desert Eyes: Songs of Justice and Spirit. They are songs about justice with a Christian sub-text carrying titles such as Let Justice Roll and lyrics such as this: “Let justice roll, like a mighty river/A-movin’ fast, down to the sea/It will erode, all our foundation/Touch every heart and every nation.” Carty launched his album in Ottawa to an audience of about 200 people in March. He said at the time that the songs had been many years in the works and that it was a great joy to present them – “especially after a couple of difficult years.” Those who know him are aware that Carty has been dealing with cancer during that time, although he plans to go back to work for CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition this fall.

Carty says that he began to write songs in the 1960s, a time of social protest. “My early influences included Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, and John Prine, and my musical skills were honed at coffee houses, protests, grape boycott pickets, folk masses, and coffee houses.” He performed for events with Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa and Cesar Chavez.  Prior to entering journalism, he spent a decade working on human rights and international development in Latin America. In the 1980s, he says, “the new music of Latin America became a strong influence”, reinforced by his living in the region for five years, reporting for the CBC.

Carty says in a booklet packaged with his album that he draws its Desert Eyes title from a philosopher, ecologist and sanctuary activist named Jim Corbett, who used to take people into the Arizona desert for retreats. For several days they would be depressed and desperate, perceiving nothing, Carty writes, but “parched barrens, bleached out colours and the lack of life.” But then they develop “desert eyes”, seeing plants, seeds, animals, a full spectrum of colours by day and wonderful stars at night. “They’d begun to understand,” Carty writes, “that even in the most desperate of times – even in time of great evil and death – there is still life and hope.”  It is the  world’s structural evil, confronted by life and hope, that Carty writes and sings about in his Desert Eyes title song: “We live in a time so dry and forsaken/Empty of joy, full of such greed.” The temptation is to avoid it all and to retreat into personal comfort, yet we are drawn to the desert life: “Embracing a God who embraces the homeless/We reach for the cup we can share/trusting the hand of a sister and brother/we work for a world that is fair.”

Carty wrote most of the 21 songs on the album and he produced it along with James Stevens. The Ottawa launch featured Carty and half a dozen other musicians, including Stevens, but it didn’t end there. Two young women singing harmonies and members of a children’s choir accompanied him at different times during the evening. “If you have great kids,” Carty  says, “it means you have a great community.”  He was accompanied in his finale, We Are Love, in the concert (and on the album) by perhaps 20 members drawn from among his friends and people at his Catholic church in Ottawa. There is a strong justice theme running through the album, but there are also two Psalms put to music and other songs as well. Carty has done a modest amount of touring with Desert Eyes and plans to do more. His website indicates that he is available to perform house concerts.

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Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament