Formed way back in 1985, Cowboy Junkies have become something of a Canadian institution over the decades with a run of albums released to both critical and fan praise. Things started off on a slightly unusual note with a covers album ‘Whites off Earth now!!’ before their sophomore release ‘The Trinity Sessions’ would put them on the world map selling over a million copies. Thirty years on from that particular landmark Cowboy Junkies return with their first album since 2012’s ‘The Wilderness’. This new release has been referred to by songwriter-guitarist Michael Timmins (one of the three Timmins siblings that form 3/4 of the band) as “These songs are about reckoning on a personal level and reckoning on a social level”. With this in mind, and as few bands do reflective melancholia better than Cowboy Junkies, this should be good.
Opening with the title track it’s immediately obvious that this isn’t going to be a casual listening experience, Cowboy Junkies present an album that boasts an ominously immersive sound designed to envelop the listener from the first note. The sound design is very dense with Alan Anton’s bass playing a major role, the guitars are baritone and thick while small snatches of ambient synth hide just beneath the surface and in some pretty dark corners. This is one of those albums best experienced on headphones in a darkened room or, if you have the luxury of good neighbours, turn it up good and loud. ‘When we arrive’ initially adds a gentle guitar twang but this fails to lighten the melancholic mood “Welcome to the age of dissolution, to the days of death and anger” but there seems to be a lyrical undercurrent that, hopefully, having faith in friends and family will see us through whatever life in 2018 throws at us.
Cowboy Junkies aren’t shy in pushing their alt-rock tendencies to the fore so things take a sharp left turn on ‘Sing Me A Song’ which amps the bass rumble to the max, the guitars get all dirty and fuzzy resulting in a cool modern take on a late 60’s psych/garage vibe. The politically charged ‘Missing Children’ again finds Cowboy Junkies fully amplified as the electric guitars cut through to good effect over a rock-solid rhythm track while the keys add impressive colour. This is one of many tracks on which Margo Timmins’ excels, her vocal performance throughout is stunning. The brooding ‘Nose Before Ear’ continues to build on the established momentum before the title track returns as ‘All That Reckoning (Part 2)’ a totally different interpretation of the song with crashing electric guitar added to the mix to present a vastly different take on a relationship in turmoil.
As I stated earlier ‘All That Reckoning’ is a fantastically produced and immersive experience which I’m sure will continue to reveal more treasures with repeated playbacks. This will come as no surprise to long-time fans but, if you’re new to the band, ‘Reckoning’ is as good a place as any to start your Cowboy Junkies journey as it finds them still at the top of their game three decades into their career.
All That Reckoning is released in the UK on July 13th 2018 via Proper Records