Cowboy Junkies is a band that has never gotten any real attention outside of their native Canada. This is confusing in all senses, as the songs they create are engaging and the lyrics are quite universal.
The Wilderness is the fourth volume of The Nomad Series of albums by Cowboy Junkies, an interesting series of recordings: with no obligations to any label nor desire to fit into any trendy genre, the experienced band is free to create what their inner whims order.
Quiet atmospheres envelop the listener, like rain in a corrugated roof. Those are the intimate sounds created by the band, both quiet but emotionally overpowering. Part alt-country, part folk, it’s all about the intimate sounds and the almost book-like passages narrated through the music.
This is probably a calculated move by songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, who lists in the liner notes several literary connections. The Western tinged, utterly sad song ‘Staring man’ quotes a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, the hymn-like sombreness of ‘Angels in the wilderness’ is inspired by the book Gilead (which is equally stark and touching) and ‘We are the selfish ones’ paraphrases Henry Wadsworth, a poet that had the skill of creating poems that could’ve easily been songs, so it’s quite nice that Cowboy Junkies give him a shout. Check him out (with this album as a soundtrack, you can’t lose).
Now, not all the album is a “pay it forward” of their reading habits. ‘Fairytale’ sounds like the disgruntled princess who seems would’ve been better off with the frog than the prince, ‘Staring man’ is haunting to no end (love the bass line here, makes it all come together) and ‘The Confession of George E’ is the one respite of loud you get, which makes it as loud as a thunderstorm.
On their website, Cowboy Junkies do wonder about this album. “We’re not quite sure how these will form themselves into a cohesive album, but these things always work themselves out.” Well, they do flow and they do feel cohesive. There is a clear sense of sadness and longing in this recording, but there’s that bit of gallows’ humour at the end (‘Fuck, I hate the cold’) which shows that although this album might be stark, there’s always humour in bad situations. As we say in México, “Al mal tiempo, buena cara” (“face the bad weather with a smile”).
PS: We covered the previous volume in The Nomad Series back in November (link).
Words: Sam J. Valdés López