I’m hoping that the Cowboy Junkies will be well received as i seem to own a good portion of their back catalogue. While there is not much of a plan to this project I was thinking that quite a few of the weekly offerings would be from the Timmins family.
Even though Early 21st Century Blues is an official label release it is probably one of the more obscure CD’s from their back catalogue. The bulk of the album is cover versions and two in particular stand out.
The Cowboy Junkies first landed in the public conscious as a result of somebody elses song; namely The Velvet Undergrounds Sweet Jane. They cemented this on the next album, The Caution Horses with a soulful version of Neil Young’s Powderfinger. More than any other band I can immediately bring to mind they seem to re-interpret other people’s compositions as their own and that’s not to take anything away from their own impressive body of originals.
The most immediate cover on the Album is U2’s anthemic One. This song lost its currency for me a long time ago. It’s a piece that has spent most of its life on High Radio rotation. Has been redone, badly, more times than any one song deserves and to add insult to injury is massacred by Bono Vox every time he gets up on stage to sing it (and yes you would think I’d have a bit more respect since he wrote it). So the song which is generally acknowledged to have replaced Brian Eno/David Bowie’s Heroes as THE Pop Anthem of LAST century was to my ears all worn out. Well, that was the case till Margot Timmins breathed new life into it. Listening to it again with fresh ears there is an honesty and directness in this interpretation that was never there in the original. Alan Anton’s bass playing is almost like another vocal that has been added to the mix. It doesn’t just propel the rhythm along but almost provides another voice for Margot to harmonise with.
But what i think makes this version most special is Michael Timmins guitar work. He’s a great guitarist (criminally under-rated) but for all his skills he keeps it decidedly low-key on this number. Nothing flash, just the Chords Your Honor! Strum, Change, Strum. But in there is Space, lots of Space for his sister to move in and for me that defines the song just as much as Ms Timmins straight connection to the listeners heart.
There is a line in the song that has always confused me a little ….. “Love the higher loss” …..You kind of think you understand it; Love = sacrifice; you give something away to gain something new but I’ve never been fully convinced and always felt I was missing something.
The other stand-out track is I don’t Want to be a Soldier. This was a bit of an eye opener when i first heard it as I’ve always placed the Cowboy Junkies in that Gram Parsons/Townes Van Zandt territory; mid-west America but not in this century. So to hear this creamy as fresh whipped butter bass line pumping along was an unexpected surprise. Mixing musical genres is fraught with disasters. However in this case the Rap over the top works beautifully. It brings to mind Public Enemies He Got Game though in this instance they reverse the natural order of things and sample the white folks namely Buffalo Springfield’s For What its Worth. Then to cap off this surprising song choice it’s a John Lennon song that I’d never heard before!
See ya next Wednesday.