Monday, May 23, 2005
Early 21st Century Blues
When Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session came out back in '88, a friend of mine expressed her distaste for Margo Timmins' languid, reserved, and (to my ears anyway) sultry vocals (especially on their semi-hit cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane", one of my friend's favorite tunes.) I didn't understand her criticism then...I think Timmins' supple, evocative voice is one of the underappreciated wonders of the pop world (the same being true for the band as whole)...and, of course, I still don't get it all these years later.
The Junkies' new disc is one of the most sedate (but no less engaging for that) "protest" records you are ever likely to hear. Early 21st Century Blues presents a remarkable collection of songs...two originals by ace guitarist Michael Timmins (the evocative "December Skies" and the wistfully bittersweet "This World Dreams Of"), two traditional folk songs arranged by the band (the oft-covered "Two Soldiers" and the anti-slavery song "No More"), and seven shrewdly chosen covers...that comment on the state of our world in a still new century.
Arguably, no self-respecting "protest" collection would be complete without a Bob Dylan song and this one opens with a lovely version of his acerbic "License to Kill" (originally done by Dylan on his Infidels disc.)
With Michael's acoustic guitar and Margo's luminous voice at the fore, the band resurrects Richie Havens' "Handouts in the Rain" to fine effect. Similarly, they strip down two Bruce Springsteen songs...the aftermath of war song "Brothers Under the Bridge" and the haunting 9/11-inspired "You're Missing"...revealing new levels of nuance in the poignant lyrics in the process.
The only real misfire is the inclusion of tepid rapping (by a friend of the band calling himself "Rebel") during the percolating, otherwise taut and funky (well for the Junkies anyway :-), version of John Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier". Leave the hip hop to the professionals.
Shimmering, passionate readings of George Harrison's "Isn't it a Pity" and U2's "One" round out this grand record.
(FYI: As of this writing, Amazon.com doesn't list this CD...I bought mine from the fine folks at Maple Music.)