Cowboy Junkies are one of those outstanding bands that just get on with what they do and quietly slip under many people’s radars. The Timmins siblings & bassist Alan Anton are now into their fifth decade, rapidly chasing down a haul of 20 studio albums. I recall seeing them play live in their home city of Toronto in 1996 when I had their ‘Lay it Down’ LP on heavy rotation. Like many Canadian artists, they are truly appreciated and adored in their homeland but rarely met with the same clamour level outside their own borders.
When I heard that their latest release, ‘Songs of the Recollection’, was going to be a set of nine covers, I was mildly disappointed. However, on hearing the signature Junkies guitar of Michael Timmins and Margo’s soulful, lucious voice, we are sonically transported to a distant place somewhere between Nashville and Ontario. They have put their own stamp on these tracks with flowing ease and substance.
Their version of Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ is served up as the opener. It’s the second time that this song has been covered in the past year. Duran Duran performed it back in early 2021 in the lead up to their ‘Future Past’ album release. It’s a damn fine song; whatever way you dress it up, Margo & Co. do not disappoint in their delivery. It may not delve into the extreme, painful depths that Bowie finds on the original; however, the angst and hurt within the Junkies version is not lost.
There are a few numbers on here that have seen a previous commercial outing. ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ appeared on the 1999 Gram Parsons tribute effort – ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’ and The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ appeared on the ‘Neath Your Covers’ EP in 2004. Originally released in 2003, their take on Gram Parson’s folky ‘The Way I Feel’ is transformed into a funky Timmins guitar adventure.
Athens, Georgia singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt died at the age of 45 on Christmas Day 2009. He had such a profound effect on the band that they dedicated an entire album (‘Demons’) to some of his finest work. The unhinged guitar by Michael Timmins on ‘Marathon’ reverberates like the choppers in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ It is deathly and brilliant.
The standout tracks for me are two Neil Young covers, side by side on the album, quite unorthodox in the world of cover songs. There is no doubting the influence that fellow Canuck Mr Young has had on the Cowboy Junkies’ musical journey. The powerful ‘Don’t Let it Bring You Down’ from his seminal ‘After the Goldrush’ LP features heady, fuzzy, feedback-fuelled guitars that Neil himself would be proud of. In contrast, the gentle ‘Love in Mind’ follows on perfectly.
The choice of songs by Dylan (‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ from 2020) and The Rolling Stones (‘No Expectations’ from 1968) on here are unexpected, yet Cowboy Junkies, as they have always done, bring a unique texture to other artist’s songs. Dating right back to their breakthrough moment in 1986, singing Lou Reed’s ‘Sweet Jane’, cover songs have been a regular feature from them throughout the years. Yet, their versions never seem lazy nor contrived. With their magic fusion of folk, country and rock, ‘Songs of the Recollection’ maintains Cowboy Junkies’ high standards in creative interpretation and expression.
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