Friday, February 25, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: COWBOY JUNKIES - DEMONS
Cowboy Junkies appear in The Top 100 Canadian Albums at #62 - The Trinity Session
This is the second release in the band's ongoing Nomads series, a cycle that will see the Junkies release four discs in roughly 18 months, volumes 3 and 4 to appear later this year. First, some facts about the Nomads releases: There is in fact, no thematic connection between the four releases, at least not musically. It's just that the group had a surplus of songs, now own their own label, and wanted to present themselves a time-based challenge. Also, they received four paintings from an artist friend that they wanted to use as album covers. So they picked four topics, and started last year with Renmin Park, songs about Michael Timmins' three-month stay in China.
Demons is a collection of cover versions of a great friend of the band's, U.S. cult figure Vic Chestnutt. As Michael Timmins explains on the group's website, they had long discussed a collaborative album, but when Chestnutt died last year, it became obvious they should delve into his large, and largely unheard catalogue. Timmins felt the group could bring their "Northern" perspective to the songs. You don't have to be a devotee of Chestnutt's work to appreciate the album, and it's almost better if you aren't. Discovering these moody, quirky songs is half the fun, and hearing them from a solid band with a unique sound is an especially good way. Chestnutt fans might question the interpretations, and the loss of Chestnutt's distinctive style, but the Junkies have their own, and their own audience, and the material works well for them.
The songs allow the band to sink back into their trademark murkiness to a point, with Margo Timmins slightly buried in the mix, along with the drums and bass, and other elements like the splash of the cymbals and ambience of the strings filling more of the listening space. Also, the group's natural languid and laid-back style put a strong focus on the words, certainly a strong point in Chestnutt's work. Also, you know you have a song that works for Cowboy Junkies with a line like "crows flying around my head". These songs may be highly personal to Chestnutt, but at the same time, when it's a labour of love for the band, it's moving in a new way. Don't think of it as a tribute disc, or part of a greater series, the album stands on its own as an examination of one artists' craft, and his Demons.