Last week my order from Canada turned up – the latest Cowboy Junkies CD, Demons. It is in what they are calling the Nomad Series – four albums in 2 years, an absolute joy for Junkies fans (especially this one!). The first album was Renmin Park, for me, one of their top three albums. And then Demons… wow, what an immediately accessible and beautiful record! I have listened to the Junkies for 22 years now and have never missing getting an album, and never been disappointed. It is an amazing thing that this Canadian band of three siblings and a school friend
can still be putting out such consistently creative and wonderful albums after so many years, but that they are getting better and better with each album is a real tribute to them. (21st Century Blues along with their early The Trinity Sessions are my other favourites and I struggle to rank them separately.)
Demons is a collection of covers of songs written by their friend and one time collaborator (on Trinity Revisited) the late Vic Chestnutt. Apparently he was
going to do the album with them but tragically he died – allegedly of suicide. Chestnutt was a tortured soul and a close listen to the lyrics of the songs reflects his struggle with disability and alcoholism.
Demons however acknowledges his struggles in name more than tone. The
quieter and sombre songs suit the Junkies tradition, but it is what they do with four songs in particular that have moved me in these early days that make this album spectacular.
Listening to the four songs in sequence is an utter joy: Flirted With You All My Life, Betty Lonely, Ladie & Supernatural. Margo is at her best vocally, the band are
wonderful – the guitar work is stunning and the wonderful bass playing (Alan
Anton is sublime here) is what lifts Flirted… into the joyful song that it is.
Listening to Vic Chestnutt’s versions on youtube helps one realise how brilliant the Junkies work on these songs is. Flirted… is a song to death – Chestnutt’s version is sombre – the Junkies turn it into an anthem for life… “I’m not ready (for death)” is sung with passion, conviction, and defiance. That they sing and play like that for a song that Chestnutt must have ceased to find helpful shows just why this interpretation of his songs is so important. What they do with Betty Lonely by putting in (an unacknowledged what-sounds-like) a Hammond keyboard just sends an ordinary song into a haunting stratosphere. I have found that listening to it loud when you are driving is best! Same for Ladie.
But the good news doesn’t stop here… their next album is being released in late
October… Sing In My Meadow can be pre-ordered on their website. It is promised to be “eight songs, forty minutes of wailing and gnashing” – given that that is not the Junkies usual style is something to especially look forward to!
Have a listen for yourself on the Cowboy Junkies very generous website where every song they have ever done seems to be able to be listened to: http://latentrecordings.com/cowboyjunkies/