Deconstruction of the Blues
The Nomad Series - Cowboy Junkies
Volume 1 - Renmin Park
Pleasantly disjointed storytelling has been a part of the Cowboy Junkies repertoire from the get-go. A slice of life, a short element of philosophical reverie from someone bitten hard by life who has managed to not become hardbitten, a lament. This is the hallmark of this first album in the Nomad series, a series inspired by a painting pentatych by Enrique Martinez Celaya, it explores freedom and constraint a leopard walking freely through an icescape and then its body draped over the shoulders of a child as she stands through the seasons. This first album sings of the body of work of people struggling amid a relatively new cultural system in an old body of mind. China, in a park that celebrated revolutionary change and houses greenhouses that bloom amid different seasons. This album represents autumn, a body of work built amid a long background of loving work from the blush of youth. It didn't bite me on the butt. I mean I wasn't like hm. BRILLIANT! Some stuff does, but don't discount it. It has resonance, it bounces around in your brain for awhile, so does the production, man did they strut their stuff on it. Slices of a different world, not just the outlanders in far canada struck in hardship and harsh weather and the bottle. It discusses outlanders in their own nation, an artistic tradition of music and poetry that doesn't breathe strong in a nation of work. Are the cultural elements of old China like the leaves preparing to drift away before they start anew someday in a new season? I wouldn't even hazard to guess, some cultures are too large to sweep away in a single sentence. China changes though. At least for the last 3000 years it has.
So have the Junkies over the years, it feels like this quartet is a search for their roots, this is one, the broad brushstrokes that paint a life in 3 verses and a chorus.
Volume 2 - Demons
Emotional resonance. The portraits painted by their brushstrokes are about people that matter. People that suffer or have experienced loss. Here the loss is the Junkies'. The loss of a friend, Vic Chesnutt, the nearly quadriplegic wheelchair-bound singer/songwriter that they befriended in the years before he took his own life as a Christmas present to himself in 2009. It wasn't the first time he'd tried to open that package as sung about in his song "Flirted With You All My Life". To quote, "When my mom was cancer sick, She fought, but then succumbed to it, But you made her beg for it, Lord Jesus, please I'm ready." I mean how do you turn that down. Life kicks the shit out of some people more than others. It really kicked the shit outta Vic. Car accident left him in a chair at 18, just in the first blush of real life and boom he spent the next 27 years there. Yeh, people fight back from that, become inspirational speakers or teach kids but not everybody has that in them. Vic's inspiration was the inspiration of a back alley gambler splashin' together words of sorrowful lives and raw ingenuity with a sly snicker of love. There are probably plenty of people who he helped through it. Whatever their shit is. Whatever is kickin' them in the nuts. Me too. Man was an iconoclastic bellwether of his times hawkin' loogies down over the rail. The Junkies snag up some of his finest work and lay it down straight, with love, from friends. What more can you ask. "built a king on compliments, charisma and advertisements, still they see him shimmer ephermeral, it ain't supernatural, or maybe" and that's the truth. This one has the love, but also the pain, try not to bawl, well... mebbe a lil'.
Volume 3 - Sing in my Meadow
This one's about raw musical genius, the noise of a band obsessed with feedback and fuzz but with the good taste to keep it in a modest setting, the blues. Honkin' ass fuzzed up harmonica, gritty smackin' gitars, spacious thumpy drummin', and Margo. Like 'Whites Off Earth Now' with all the stops pulled out, only one cover (of themselves), and kind of a hard edge, mebbe to shake off all the people snivelin' about poor ole' Vic, but mebbe not. I mean there's gotta be some pressure after bein' together for nearly 30 years. That kinda grit has gotta shake off some of the pressure, a rawness and probably a lil' bit of cuttin' too just to keep things interesting. This is the one you should play for anyone not heavy into the Junkies or confessional songwriting or folkystuff. They'll probably come back for more. I wish I could say some crap like "SOLID ROCK MUSIC CLASSIC AN TEH NEW PINK FLOYD" or something, but it wouldn't be honest, and that's what they are. Mebbe more honest than Springsteen. Less of a pose... but just a little bit. This is the one you'll listen to drivin' around or gettin' drunk or havin' a party. It doesn't rake you over the coals, it doesn't wow you with any heavy concept, and because its free of those things, it doesn't have to lay down anything more than some raucous noise that wouldn't carry them as far as they've gotten without those other things... but they sound like they'd be having fun even if they hadn't moved as many people or impressed as many critics. Like that bar band that you stumbled in and heard at a Canadian roadhouse and then got deported because you were too damn drunk and started callin' out for 'free bird'. Great album, but Demons is my favorite of these 4. Cuz they got moved too.
Volume 4 - The Wilderness
1, 2, 3, foah. Well she was just climbin' rocks. Or somethin'. Its one sweet groove, all put together. Yup. The little bit of that and the big ole chunka this and this kinda stuff and some-a that over there and all singin' beautifully together. The perfect mix of tunes. A cheesy garlic bread. A warm kinda lovin' thing amid bitterness or something. If you've been a fan, you'll know what you're in for. I'm a fan again. I drifted off for a while because the tides change and sometimes you are lookin' for low tide when the warm wash of high tide is up along the coast. If you've ever loved a band, I know you know what I'm talkin' about. Eliminator tour? OU812? Delicate Sound of Tundra. A far off wind of change where you drift apart from someone that once had you crankin' their wax all up and down the line. You quit hopin' for change. You quit thinkin' they'll go the way you loved again. But sometimes they do. And sometimes its you that changes.