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Canadian country rock band, Cowboy Junkies were formed in 1985 in Toronto by brothers and sister Michael (songwriter, guitar), Peter (drums) and Margo Timmins (vocals) and friend Alan Anton (bass).
Their debut album in 1986, 'Whites Off Earth Now!' was a blues inspired effort but it was their second album 'The Trinity Session' released in 1988 and recorded around a single microphone in a church, which went to be become their biggest seller and secure them a record deal. Since then, they've developed a dedicated following around the world and have to date released twelve studio albums plus several more in the form of live and compilation releases. Their style is a laid-back melting pot of blues, country, rock and folk centred around the song writing talents of Michael and the velvety soft voice of Margo.
'At The End Of Paths Taken' is (at the time of writing) their latest studio album released in 2007 on the Cooking Vinyl label in the UK.
A new Cowboy Junkies album is always something to get excited about, and I had high expectations for the rather strangely titled 'At The End Of Paths Taken' because I'd seen them live in London just prior to the release. They'd previewed a few of the new tracks in the intimate Spitz club and I could tell from the live versions that the album was going to be something special. It didn't disappoint, after more than 20 years together and having settled somewhat comfortably into the 'Cowboy Junkies' style they managed to produce something markedly different.
The album moves away from the mellow country sound of norm and introduces a hefty string section, and even a youth choir, giving a new dimension to their music. The strings are definitely the driving force throughout many of the songs but there are also the nods towards past guitar driven styles. The heavy guitars and Margo's harder edged singing style on 'Cutting Board Blues', sounds reminiscent of something from their very first album 'Whites Off Earth Now!'
Songwriter Michael Timmins has used this album to explore relationships within the family, he like others in the band, is now a parent and he himself is a son to aging parents. In 'My Little Basquiat' Margo ponders what her children could grow up to become, maybe an artist or a dancer or maybe sent off to war. On my favourite track on the album. 'My Only Guarantee' Michael draws lyrical inspiration from the Philip Larkin poem 'This Be The verse' and tells his children, "my only guarantee: I will f**k you up", accompanied by the sweet voices of a youth choir.
The family is reflected in other ways too; the inner booklet shows two different hands holding a rope, one is the young hand of Xiu Gao Timmins, and the other is the older hand of Mother, Barbara Timmins. Throughout the song 'Mountain' their father, John A. Timmins reads from his book 'I Don't Know Where I Am But I'm Making Good Time' giving the song a dark ominous undertone to accompany the menacing soundscape and Margo's plaintive cries of "can someone tell me how this mountain got so high".
For me the only weak song in the collection is 'Someday Soon' where writer and guitarist Michael Timmins steps up the mike for the first time on an album and duets with sister Margo. Their voices just don't quite gel together and I think the song would have been far better if he'd just left the singing, as usual, to the silky smooth vocal talents of Margo.
'At The End Of Paths Taken' has a brooding darkness about it, Cowboy Junkies have never been about cheery dance music, and as long as the listener is aware of that before embarking on this particular journey the album doesn't disappoint. It's very different from previous offerings, less laid back and mellow than others and I think that still managing to surprise their audience after more than 20 years together is a great achievement. Now I'm eagerlly awaiting whatever they do next.
Brand New World
Cutting Board Blues
My Little Basquiat
It Doesn't Really Matter Anyway
Blue Eyed Saviour
My Only Guarantee
Album produced by: Michael Timmins
Jeff Bird (electric mandolin, percussion)
Joby Baker (piano, keyboards, bass)
Henry Kucharzyk (digital kalimba and string arrangements)
More info from: www.cowboyjunkies.com
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Brand New World
2 Still Lost
3 Cutting Board Blues
4 Spiral Down
5 My Little Basquait
6 Someday Soon
7 Follower 2
8 It Really Doesn't Matter Anyway
9 Blue Eyed Saviour
11 My Only Guarantee