By Eric Thom
The Cowboy Junkie's first collection of original material in five years seeks to undo the damage done in these tumultuous times, in a world which seems like it's crumbling all around us.
1. What I Lost
3. Hard To Build. Easy To Break
4. Circe and Penelope
5. Hell is Real
6. Shadows 2
8. Mike Tyson (Here it Comes)
9. Throw a Match
10. Blue Skies
Formed in 1985 by songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins and his best friend, Alan Anton, and augmented by his brother Peter Timmins on drums and sister, Margo on vocals, it was their second album, Trinity Session, that introduced The Cowboy Junkies to the world at large, triggered by their distinctive cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Sweet Jane’ and a signature sound - once referred to as “country-on-valium” - which would pilot them through the next 30 years and 26 albums.
Without question, Margo Timmins’ hard-edged, sweltering alto remains at the centre of their sound, having cast a hauntingly seductive spell over the band’s music since its inception. Such Ferocious Beauty – their first collection of original material in five years – seeks to undo the damage done in these tumultuous times, in a world which seems like it’s crumbling all around us. It reaches past the doom and gloom to reveal light, joy and… well, beauty.
Despite tackling themes of aging, death and the need to carve out a safe, personal space, the album wraps a velveteen, wall-of-sound around Margo’s singular vocals, adding to her quiet intensity with a wide variety of sonic textures.
From James McKie’s rapturous violin to Michael’s turns on wild, dissonant electric guitar, you might assume Margo’s patented purr might get crushed in the dissonance – yet she reigns supreme. In fact, the ferocity of these arrangements buoys her while adding tension, urgency and an overall density to the lyrics she adds life to.
With ‘What I Lost’, dementia is simulated through gently-strummed acoustic guitar transitions, before spinning into discordant guitar, electric violin and back again – encompassing the chaos experienced from having seen their father suffer a loss they all felt.
The lone drone of a single organ note propels ‘Knives’ into a mournful, yet upbeat, backdrop; the clicked strings of electric guitar and McKie’s swirling, sultry violin adding significant pressure to threatening lyrics.
The childlike verse of ‘Hell Is Real’ (“Hell is hot. Hell is real. Jesus is coming, ready or not”) predicts the end as soft acoustic guitar and the sound of mating frogs keep things surreal. ‘Flood’ pitches an underbelly of howling guitar against the singer's vocals, adding to its sense of drowning as they make a choice of death over life.
Despite how all this may sound, Such Ferocious Beauty may appear to chronicle the painful reality of life. In fact, it offers a glimmer of hope, pointing you towards finding your own comfort and joy.
The Cowboy Junkies' 2023 album, Such Ferocious Beauty, is out now on Cooking Vinyl