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"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Record Reviews > Cowboy Junkies

MUSIC REVIEWS

Cowboy Junkies-One Soul Now (ZoŽ/Latent)

It's hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since the Cowboy Junkies' second album, the sparse and lovely The Trinity Sessions, became a surprise success and helped to pave the road for alt country and triple-A radio.  That album was recorded live in one night at an abandoned church and mixed blues, country and rock sensibilities with a hazy, lanquid, ethereal sound and lead singer Margo Timmins' gorgeous, otherworldly vocals.  The album was a mix of inspired covers and surprisingly good originals written by lead guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins.  (The band is made up of three Timmins siblings and their cousin, Alan Anton.)  Best known of those songs was the radical reworking of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," but I feel the high point of the album was an original composition, "Misguided Angel," a mournful pedal steel declaration of low expectations in love and life that is quite simply one of the saddest songs I've ever heard.

Since that album, the Junkies have released some very good disks, and been responsible for some amazing musical moments.  ("'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel," the John Prine duet "If You Were the Woman and I Was the Man," "This Street, That Man, This Life" and "A Common Disaster" were particularly classic tunes.)  However, they never again quite captured the brilliance of that breakthrough album.  It is nice to see that they have been able to keep going and expanding their sound over the years when many similar artists who they came up with (Michelle Shocked, Mazzy Star and Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians come to mind) have pretty much fallen off the radar. 

One Soul Now is the second album the band has released on ZoŽ (an imprint of roots label Rounder Records).  The new album continues the group's musical evolution.  The first thing one notices that the band has become a better rock band over the years... The roots touches that they are known for have somewhat given way to a tougher, guitar based sound.  Not that One Soul Now is going to get anyone banging their heads, but the guitar power chords that augment the songs will be a bit of a shock for people who haven't kept up with the Junkies. 

Margo Timmins' vocals are also mixed further up in the mix than in previous albums.  This has an odd effect.  Her vocals are still extremely well done, but they lose the eerie siren's call uniqueness of former works.  For example, "No Long Journey Home" sounds spookily like an outtake by Rosanne Cash circa Interiors, both musically and vocally.  As far as I'm concerned, that is a huge compliment.  The song is perfectly lovely.  However, I'm not used to the Cowboy Junkies sounding like anyone else.  

Even given this slight reservation, I'm happy to say that One Soul Now does include some of best songs the band has come up with in years.  "Wild Child" is a wonderfully propulsive folk-rock workout.  "From Hunting Ground To City" sounds like the perfect theme song to a movie that David Lynch hasn't made yet.   It is followed up by "The Stars of Our Stars," which is simply the best pop song the Junkies have ever made.  Okay, arguably it's the one of the few true pop songs they've done, but that doesn't lessen the adrenaline rush of the tune.   

It's nice to see that the Timmins family still has surprises up their sleeves.  (5/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 4, 2004.

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Copyright © 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 4, 2004.