Review: Cowboy Junkies Explore Life’s Darker Side On the Compelling ‘Such Ferocious Beauty’

Cowboy Junkies
Such Ferocious Beauty
(Cooking Vinyl)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Cowboy Junkies’ first album of original songs in three years isn’t a major sonic or conceptual departure from the Canadian quartet’s existing catalog. The template created on their debut in 1986, and perfected a few years later on their still mesmerizing The Trinity Session album, has largely stayed consistent over the decades and nearly two dozen following releases. It helps that founding members—three from the Timmins family (primary songwriter/guitarist Michael, drummer Peter, singer Margo) and longtime friend Alan Anton—remain to coalesce around their idiosyncratic approach.

The Junkies’ music, a combination of folk, and blues, with a touch of country and flecks of indie rock, throbs, and slow boils with brooding intensity. Nobody sounds like them for good reason; between Margo’s hushed, breathy voice and Michael’s alternately rootsy, tense, and psychedelic guitar work, Cowboy Junkies carve a distinctive sonic side road into a generally darker off-ramp of Americana.

These 10 songs stay that course.

The theme is dominated by Timmins’ father’s mental deterioration through dementia which provides some of its most memorable, if unsettling, moments.  The opening “What I Lost” with the lyrics I woke up this morning/I didn’t know who I was/I looked at the room/and didn’t know where I was/or if I ever set the melancholy tone. Michael’s softly strummed guitar is joined by an anxious electric as the vibe shifts from hushed to more nervous and determined. You ask me how I am / what am I supposed to say? could be stated by either the elder Timmins or his offspring.

The resolute beat of “Shadows2” meshes with Michael’s spectral guitar as Margo sings with suppressed gloom I can sit here and dwell alone and disappearing. The twisty, hallucinogenic solo that kicks off “Flood” creates another layer of discontent as traces of Hendrix float by on a song that builds tension with taut restraint, like stretching a rubber band just before it snaps. Margo references the disc’s title as she sings of letting the water overtake her let the current carry me/through such ferocious beauty/and just let the water rise.

Other selections such as “Hell Is Real,” “Throw a Match” and “Hard to Build, Easy to Break” are as bleak and haunting as their titles suggest.

This is provocative, artsy, but never pretentious, stuff. At this late stage, we expect nothing less of Cowboy Junkies whose material seldom explores the sunnier aspects of life, either musically or lyrically. They lock together with ethereal synchronicity gleaned through decades of collaboration. That yields much of the ferocious beauty the set’s name implies, making this another classy, sublime entry in the group’s expansive resume, one that has remarkably few missteps.  

Photo by Heather Pollack   

Leave a Reply

3 Songs You Didn’t Know Bebe Rexha Wrote for Other Artists