At the End of Paths Taken
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Despite its title, the new Cowboy Junkies album, At the End of Paths Taken, is as much about new beginnings as it is about endings. It is also about human connections, the struggle to sustain those connections over time, and the complexities that can arise even when those connections are maintained. It is, in other words, a classic Cowboy Junkies album - a suite of smart, richly textured songs that value subtlety over broad, generic strokes, songs that prize insight and casual revelations over easily digestible clichÃ©s. Family lies at the heart of the album's eleven songs, and, of course, that is appropriate, too. Three of the band's members - singer Margo Timmins; songwriter, producer and guitarist Michael Timmins; and drummer Peter Timmins - are siblings, and bassist Alan Anton has been a member since the group formed in Toronto in 1985. Few bands have lasted nearly as long with their original line-up intact, and fewer still have created as consistently satisfying a body of work.
The Cowboy Junkies' gothic Americana takes a psychedelic hue on At the End of Paths Taken, replete with Beatlesque string sections and snarling, distorted guitar leads. It's an often epic album, exemplified by the opening track, "Brand New World," which starts off like a lament and ends with a triumph of surging strings. Atop it all sits singer Margo Timmins. She's the lover everyone wants, a voice that is at once world-weary and inviting, domineering and seductive. She's the perfect vehicle for writer and brother Michael Timmins--especially on an album that deals with adult themes--because if nothing else, Margo sounds like an adult, a woman who has experienced the world and life and things that maybe we shouldn't talk about. A mother's frustration never sounded as ominous and threatening as on "Cutting Board Blues." Sitting astride a buzzsaw guitar riff and a groove of doom, she talks about walking away from it all, leaving her cutting board behind. Many of the themes concern adulthood and children with a sense of despair about the world those children are entering on songs like "My Little Basquiat." There are moments of light and hope on At the End of Paths Taken, but overall it is a deliriously dark and brooding album. --John Diliberto
Top Customer Reviews
I have noticed these same changes in other artists' music as they have matured. In most cases, I have found these developments disappointing (Sting, Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel) as it seems like the angst and edge that originally drove these artists' creativity later gave way too something over-worked, something more science than art, something more benignly pleasant than engaging. In this case, however, I am not disappointed for the most part. Margo's hauntingly beautiful voice is still entrancing (although its changed a little too). The family themes are real rather than overly sentimental. The Cowboys still have some edge, as shown in Cutting Board Blues. And there's still some of that forlorn feeling of their earlier work in Spiral Down. It Doesn't Really Matter Anyway has a little of each and is a great song. Someday Soon didn't work for me at all, but maybe its just a matter of taste. Also, even though Mountain could be a great song, I don't like the rambling male voice in the background, its too distracting. And I wasn't hip on the kids' voices in My Only Guarantee, even though it would also be an otherwise great song. (Maybe these two songs waded into the "over worked" category just a bit).
Ultimately, while there are selected albums out there that I like better than any of the Cowboy Junkies albums that I have, I think the Cowboy Junkies could easily be characterized as consistently being the best band of the last three decades. They deserve more recognition than they have received in the U.S, but perhaps a lack of commercial success in the U.S. is part of what has kept them so great over the years. Also, Cowboy Junkies, if you read this - thank you for coming to Idaho to play. I never thought I'd get a chance to see you live and it was wonderful.