Junkies - Miles From Our Home
to the Wake
face facts: The Cowboy Junkies will never be mistaken for
a party band. The Barenaked Ladies, they are not, despite
hailing from the same hometown of Toronto, Ontario. But Canadian
kinship aside, the two groups could not possibly be more polar-opposite.
In drug parlance (they do call themselves Junkies, after all),
the brothers and sister Timmins and bassist Alan Anton's backwater,
often Orbison-esque laments and odes to loneliness have always
been more heroin than hemp. The Ladies bring cocaine to the
rave. The Cowboys: Quaaludes to the wake.
seventh album, Miles From Our Home, finds the Cowboy
Junkies mining familiar thematic terrain, albeit with some
subtle but notably atypical sonic embellishments. Building
on 1996's Lay It Down, new producer John Leckie (Radiohead,
The Verve, Stone Roses) gooses the Junkies' traditionally
minimalist mix with just the right pinches of harmonica, harmonium,
pedal steel, and strings. Margo Timmins' instantly distinguishable,
whiskey-warm vocals (a huskier cousin to Karen Carpenter's
aching alto) are lushly layered, as are primary songwriter
Michael Timmins' graceful guitar arpeggios and judiciously
integrated array of electric riffs and fills (reminiscent
of R.E.M. in Automatic/Fables dark-folk mode).
and lyrically, Miles treads a decidedly tenuous line (that
is, when it can be bothered to abandon the lithium-listlessness
of dormant porch swings and rickety rocking chairs). A work
thoroughly drenched in melancholy introspection, it nonetheless
succeeds in never quite crossing over into maudlin morbidity.
The 10.5 songs essentially serve as a series of haunting psalms
on life, loss, and the meaning of it all, while the songs'
narrators remain placidly passive in the ever-evolving face
of fate - watching, waiting, wondering, but never surrendering.
Thus, "No Birds Today," an obsessive, desolate dirge of loves
lost and lives misled, and "Blue Guitar," a ghostly folk-blues
eulogy to the sadly undersung Texan troubadour Townes Van
Zandt, are more than balanced in their ethereal bleakness
by the soaring, forward-looking chorus of "New Dawn Coming"
and the undeniable snap, crackle, and pop of the title track.
ends (officially-speaking) with the utterly uplifting "Those
Final Feet," a gospel-tinged hymn driven by the unlikely honky-tonk
trinity of piano, organ, and washboard-against-a-rusty-tub
percussion. "Life is loss," it seems to say. "But so long
as there is life, then all is not lost."
From Our Home