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Cowboy Junkies' new LP "All That Reckoning" captures zeitgeist of troubled world

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ALBUM REVIEW: Cowboy Junkies – All That Reckoning (Latent) 2018

The other day I saw a story that asked how Canadians would respond if the United States fell into the hellish nightmare of a civil war.

After all, between last week’s Trump-crazed mail bomber, the racist Louisville gunman who killed two African-Americans and 11 people being gunned down in a Jewish temple by a virulent anti-Semite, well, the new record from Toronto-based Cowboy Junkies seems timely, as sad as that is.

Fear is not so far from hate / So if you get the folks to fear / It only takes one quick turn / to notch it up a gear,” Margo Timmins sings in her haunting, alt-folk style on “The Things We Do To Each Other.” Trump and other fascistic thugs around the world feed on fear and hate. And Cowboy Junkies know that, having been steeped in neo-noir roots music for decades now, music that is familiar with the "blues" and the dark feelings that can be associated with it. 

It’s been a while since Margo, guitarist Michael Timmins, drummer Peter Timmins and bassist Alan Anton were in the studio banging out a record this good, reflective of both the inner and outer struggles facing so many of us at this troubling and uncertain crossroads in history. I suspect if a civil war did break out, the band members would organize to help American refugees find a place to stay north of the border. That's just the way they are up there.

While 30 years ago it was “Misguided Angel” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” age and time and Trump have taken a toll and the halcyon days when their breakthrough record The Trinity Session was guiding the way for alt-country-with-a-brain seems all the more appealing.

Again, listening to the record, appropriately titled All This Reckoning, is essentially about just that; all of the reckoning that our society is going to have to face. Michael Timmins, whose guitar work on the album is at times subdued and even spooky (“Wooden Stairs,” “Mountain Stream”), while at others fiery and raging (“Sing Me a Song”); in an interview with Billboard recently said of our current age: “There’s a lot of pressures and a lot of crumbling institutions, very little foundation to put one’s feet on again, especially at an older age. You sort of expect things to be there and realize, ‘My God, what I thought was a standard, whether it be an institution or a way of dealing with people in our society, is disappearing.”

That really captures it. And even though the Junkies are Canadians, they realize that Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is vitally important and it is in Canada’s best interest that America be stable and fair and a torch for liberty and freedom. All of that, they understand, is in jeopardy.

America has sown the wind and will soon reap the whirlwind, to coin a phrase.

And the band captures that mood, not unlike recent records from Ry Cooder and Superchunk, as we get with “Missing Children (The Tyger)” – like the William Blake poem that inspired it – gets into existential territory about good and evil and why God would allow to exist in the world, as guest fiddle player James McKie and guitarist Bill Dillon tear into their instruments almost demonically, reflecting Margo Timmins’ vocal delivery, dripping with a mix of resignation and rage.

Times like these seem to inspire real artistic efforts, as art stands in sheer contrast to the joyless, soulless, art-free world that the Trumpists want to create. Thankfully, a Lynchian number like "Nose Before Ear," which seems to be broadcast straight outta the Black Lodge, helps counter that by holding up a mirror to the society being criticized. 

The title track actually comes as two tracks - Part 1 and Part 2 - and while more dense than some of the other songs here, captures that intensely personal feeling and that sense that while things are pretty bad, not all is lost. There is a way back, y'all.

And remember where I mentioned "crossroads" earlier in this piece? Well, the final track, "The Possessed," is my favorite. Spare and direct and Faustian in its message, where the Devil is disguised as electricity, light and water - again, the Lynchian overtones are hard to ignore - and ends with Margo Timmins singing in the final verse: "You found me waiting / disguised as the Devil, burdened with false intentions / You opened your arms, I came, you said, 'You are mine, you are mine, you are mine.'" 

Wow! See how that was turned around. The mirror, once again, reflects the true nature of the beast that has been allowed into our home. This band gets it. They see where we've been and where we are going. They have been with the major label and the small independents. They know the struggle that we all are beginning to face up to. And they respond with their beautifully dark songs that manage to include a hint of redemption there between the lines. I like that about Cowboy Junkies. They're reminding us that while times may be bad we should never give up. There's too much to live for.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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