- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Cowboy Junkies

One Soul Now

Zoe Records

It goes without saying that a Cowboy Junkies album is going to be dark, deliberate and sad. That’s their thing, and for nearly 20 years, they’ve done it well enough. The question is, will they yield something compellingly novel in the gloom?

It becomes clear that some form of midlife redemption is the goal here, whether through love (the title track), family (“My Wild Child”) or Jesus himself (“The Slide”).

Cut mostly in the band’s Toronto rehearsal space, the Junkies’ ninth studio album is the first recorded without help from an outside producer or engineer.

Thus, guitarist Michael Timmins’ latest batch of songs are allowed to roam free. They float like early morning dust mites, with an occasional shaft of sunlight that tightens them into view.

The title track — the first and best — starts typically with an alt-rocky acoustic guitar progression from Mr. Timmins, spare percussion from drummer Peter Timmins (the brother) and a sleepy warble from Margo Timmins (the sister).

Then the whole thing unfurls into a majestic chorus, only to snap back into a dank drone.

Perfect.

Later, Mr. Timmins pulls off a few nicely ragged, Neil Youngish guitar solos, and bassist Alan Anton contributes a couple of very catchy moments on “Why This One” and “From Hunting Ground to City.”

But only for the first half of “Soul” do the Junkies sustain enough steam to keep the album from crawling over the lip of a sonic black hole.

“Notes Falling Slow” is just what it says, and “No Long Journey Home” is … just what it says it isn’t. The Junkies add hand claps to the latter, perhaps sensing the song’s rhythmic dullness.

“Simon Keeper” is an interesting narrative of a crooked corporate accountant who winds up a poor, preaching street beggar (Mr. Timmins says he wrote it before the Enron collapse).

The lyrical influence of Bruce Springsteen is strong: “Now I ain’t the most honest man that ever worked a skim/I was caught with my hands in the cookie jar, and brother that was it.” (The Boss would have said “Mister, that was all she wrote.”)

What a strange tale, though, coming from a whispery female voice.

And what a strange band, still worth keeping around after all these years.

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