Monday, March 12, 2012


Here we have the final part of Cowboy Junkies' brave, inspired set of discs called The Nomad Series.  Freed from normal music company restrictions, and ignoring the usual market place rules, the C.J's chose to put out four discs over the space of 18 months, on their own label.  To recap, Disc 1 was Renmin Park, inspired by Michael Timmins' trip to China.  The second album, Demons, was a full release of covers of their friend Vic Chestnut's songs.  Part 3 was Sing In My Meadow, some quickly-recorded psychedelic blues, certainly the most out-of-character and toughest release of the group.  That one had me doubting the concept, as it felt like they were following a muse that didn't fit well with their core, especially Margo Timmins' distinctive slow burn.

Since that disc just came out last fall, it was with some trepidation that I cracked the plastic on The Wilderness.  Well, whaddya know?  Not only did I find the gem of the four-disc series, but one of my favourites from the group, ever.  It seems these tracks have been percolating since 2007-2008, before the China trip, a set that Michael put aside for the other works.  Eventually he found the theme he was missing in them, being lost in the wilderness of life, from age to parenthood to happiness.  Glad he found the connectivity; what we get is a set of largely calm and beautiful numbers, gently and slowly played, hanging on Margo's every note.  As in the past, placing her voice up front, all warm and echoed, brings an amazing sound.  Everything else is spare and subtle, even the drums, with Peter Timmins sitting out entire verses at times.  Whole numbers will go by where you have only the occasional and slightest cymbal tap, and the gentlest snare brushing.  Less is more, for sure.

You don't have to go searching for the wilderness in the songs, you know it's there from one or two words, delivered perfectly by Margo:  "damaged", "selfish", "angels", all mood-setters.  Over and over, it's pretty much Michael's acoustic, Margo's voice, the atmosphere, and just bare mentions of other players.  There are the rare occurrences of increased volume, such as The Confession Of Georgie E, where everybody gets to play at a normal level, but still with restraint and beauty.  But it's the magic of the calmness and clarity that makes this such a fine disc, a set that takes over your being in a most relaxing and spiritual way.

And then there's the last, great joke.  They finally rock out on closing cut.  Twangy distorted guitars, fat bass, and a story about too many years skating on rinks in Montreal, too many days on road in bands, "maybe I'm just getting old, 'cause fuck, I hate the cold."  That's the name of the song, Fuck, I Hate The Cold.  On an album of such quiet beauty, it closes with that unlikely voice, dropping F-bombs all over the place.  And they know what a great joke it is; the song ends with all the music being dropped off the track, leaving Margo to sing alone, "Ya, I fuckin' hate it," the last sounds on the album.  It would be a great single, if, well, you know.  As always, with the Nomad Series, and their whole career, Cowboy Junkies want to show they are not all about subdued songs and rich atmosphere.  But they do it so well.


  1. Excellent review Bob. I was about to give up but will get this latest effort.

  2. Hmm, that's kinda what I was thinking when I went to listen too, Jay!