I can be a neglectful sort, but it isn’t due to a deliberate negligence. Rather it’s due to my time constraints. I’ve gone over my stack of acquired CDs, as I usually do to make sure that my three piles are properly placed. I have a “Be Negligent – Please” pile, a “Needs More Listening – If I Have Time” pile, and finally, a “Review This – NOW” pile, which gets shorted at times as well. Time… anyone have a way to expand 24 into 48 hours and it still be a day?
Canadian rockers, Cowboy Junkies have a rabid following of fans, a following that is well deserved. Last year, they released a disc of covers and a few originals in Early 21st Century Blues, which we didn’t review but will correct that oversight now. In addition, we’ll review the Special Edition live set that supplies not only a CD of music but also a DVD of performances. Both sets deserve better attention from TAP than they got.
Early 21st Century Blues is an album of songs that deal with war. It begins with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “License To Kill” and ends with a version of “One” from U2. In between it covers Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge,” Richie Haven’s “Handouts In The Rain,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” and Lennon’s “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier.” There are also some arranged traditionals like “Two Soldiers,” and “No More.”
All of the criteria that make this a bonafide Cowboy Junkies album are here. The conviction of Margo Timmins’ seductively soft voice, drenched with blues, sadness, and heartbreak, fills tracks along with brother Michael Timmins – who contribute two original tracks for this album – and his seemingly inexhaustible guitar savvy. The one misstep with this set is their re-imagining of Lennon’s “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier,” turning the track into a rap tune. I don’t blame them for their daring but it just doesn’t seem to work appropriately. The song becomes angry when its purpose is a representation of fear and loss of conviction.
Their beautiful rework of the Civil War tune, “Two Soldiers,” previously done by Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, is heartbreaking and hard to tear away from. Equally as riveting is their version of Springsteen’s moving “Brothers Under The Bridges” from his Tracks Box. They give another voice to Springsteen’s compelling words and create another classic tune. They revisit Springsteen with a version of his “You’re Missing” from The Rising. I couldn’t attach to this song from Springsteen because the lyrics felt too contrived and not genuine, a song for the sake of a song and in stark contrast to the ‘reach in and grab your soul’ bite of “Brothers Under the Bridges.” I feel the same emptiness from Cowboy Junkie’s version. Funny how things refuse to translate or fill with emotion when there doesn’t seem to be any in it to begin with.
I’ll leave the rest to discovery for you but will say that Early 21st Century Blues can capture your heart easily enough.
The Cowboy Junkies thrive in live environments. You can hear it easily enough in their latest live album, Long Journey Home – Live in Liverpool, a 2004 tour that supported their ninth studio effort, One Soul Now. They fill this set up with surprise after surprise that includes not only covers of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues,” and Neil Young’s “Helpless,” but also a complete DVD of performances, 18 songs deep running approximately 182 minutes. But as if that wasn’t enough to satisfy CJ fans, they add interview segments with the band as well as a soundcheck and behind-the-scenes footage with Stereo and 5.1 Dolby Surround options, all presented in 16:9 widescreen. If only all bands offered this bounty with their releases. What potential worth!! The DVD is a great extension of the songs you hear on the CD. It’s absolutely fantastic that you get to watch these guys at work performing the songs that you enjoy on the CD. It adds a value to the album package that I wish other bands would emulate.
Michael Timmins’ guitar starts the CD set with a jam that leads into Margo’s seemingly narcotized, sultry and talented voice with a spectacular knockout performance of the aforementioned “32-20 Blues.” As Margo introduces it as a song about “shooting your lover because he or she…” Timmins’ guitar explores the audience as he preps the song for Margo to belt out the song, and she does.
A country bluesy “cause Cheap Is How I Feel” from their early years, Caution Horses album is well done, while a psychedelic guitar permeates “Pale Sun.” While much of Long Journey Home – Live in Liverpool celebrates their own music, their coverage of Reed’s “Sweet Jane” is electric while Young’s “Helpless” is sufficient enough to make it worth your ear time.
Both Cowboy Junkie albums are highly recommended; you are encouraged to pick both of these titles up, especially Long Journey Home – Live in Liverpool.