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Cowboy Junkies | Open (Cooking Vinyl/Latent)
Once heralded as the saviours of rock, Canada's Cowboy Junkies have slipped into the shadows of late following a string of less than thrilling records. After being dropped in a bout of corporate takeovers, they're on their own label, Latent, and sounding at least half refreshed and somewhat like the Junkies we love of old. Open begins with a down and dirty guitar riff, like something off the last Lou Reed album, then slides smoothly into the ghostly deconstructed beat of I Did It For You, a glacial murder ballad that reminds you of the blood curdling coolness of Margo Timmins' voice, a wonder to behold indeed. The third part of the Junkies' continuing River Song Trilogy is up next, a shimmering eight-minute whirlwind of noise and flux. Michael Timmins' guitar sounds incredible, all jagged and crisp strokes, slowly winding through the deep swampy soul of the track as sister, Margo, sings about death, loss and dragging bodies from the river. It's probably the darkest track the band has ever done, and one of their best. The following songs never quite reach this peak, sometimes being lost in the mire of a messy mix, with Margo's crystal clear vocals all too often being submerged under layers of effects and double tracking. A song like Thousand Year Prayer shows how a clear, untreated vocal is still the most affecting, a drop dead gorgeous love song that sounds like a Caution Horses outtake. Several songs (Bread And Wine, I'm So Open) however, take a BIG rock tack, all crunching guitars, distortion and a 4/4 beat, losing much of what makes the band's music so special. Where once they specialised in taking songs and deconstructing them to their salient elements, playing down the chord changes, it now seems they're doing the opposite, building songs around big, obvious progressions and riffing on them. Hard to decipher vocals, loose, open structures and a power chord fixation make this a difficult and obstinate album, but one which slowly yields small delights and scattered moments of brilliance.
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001