Tuesday 27 March 2012
Angels in the wilderness
It was nothing if not ambitious. Approaching their 25th anniversary as a band, Cowboy Junkies decided that they would mark the occasion by releasing four new records over an 18-month period. This wasn’t music that was already “in the can” as they say, but material yet to be written in some cases, let alone committed to tape. They would call it The Nomad Series, an appropriate choice for the band, given that during their quarter century of music, they have rarely stayed in one place (musically speaking) for long, preferring to explore territory and trajectories that other bands would have shied away from.
The Nomad journey now ends with Cowboy Junkies wandering around in The Wilderness, the vast land we all find ourselves in when searching for meaning in our day to day existence. The band, too, seems to be searching for meaning, maybe even for closure, at the end of this chapter of their career and set forth on their next journey. All the traditional ‘Junkies touchstones are their: Margo Timmins’ distinctive voice front and centre; the restrained, spare playing from Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, Alan Anton, and long-time accompanist Jeff Bird; the calm, almost glacial pace of the songs. This collection, though, apparently written prior to Renmin Park (the first record of the Nomad series), sounds like a band revitalized rather than weary from a long trip. No where more so than on the record’s unexpected, rambunctious closer, “Fuck, I Hate The Cold”, a jocular account of their journey from young kids playing on frozen rinks in Montreal to years on the road, fighting boredom, indifferent audiences, and aging. It’s an odd juxtaposition to the rest of The Wilderness at first, but it exemplifies not only the story of the band these past 25 years, but their attitude as well: you don’t make it to your 25th anniversary by taking yourself too seriously.
As the closing volume in the Nomad series, The Wilderness succinctly brings all the elements of the previous volumes together in one record. In doing so, it stands as one of the best collections of original material in the Cowboy Junkies’ career, and one of the year’s unexpected pleasures.
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