Archive for August, 2014
Sunday, August 17th, 2014
Over the coming many months we will occasionaly be dedicating a month to celebrate and look back at one of our albums. This month we are spotlighting At The End Of Paths Taken. Make sure that you check out our Facebook page for more photos related to the making of the album.
This review was written by Dave Bowler when Paths Taken was released back in 2007. Dave is writing a bio of our studio albums and we feel that he has a pretty good grasp of our ouvre (so to speak)…
COWBOY JUNKIES – AT THE END OF PATHS TAKEN
More than twenty years in to a career, there aren’t many artists that are going anyplace. You are what you are what you are. You buy a book, watch a movie, hear a record by somebody who’s been at that that long, you’re putting on familiar shoes. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that either, a little security in a fast changing world.
And yet and yet.
Creation is all about change. You want to keep creating, you gotta keep changing, that was Miles’ philosophy, and pretty well every time you got a new Davis disc, you got a charge of electricity that raced up the spine and knocked your wig off, for good or bad. Not many of those guys about.
You find another one, you better relish that, better cherish it, because those are the artists that are worth having around your house, in your ears, taking space in your head. They’re the ones that are going to wake you up, challenge you, maybe tell you something instead of reinforcing what you already think you know, better yet, make you ask yourself some questions, or help you strip away some dirt from the answers that were there all the time.
You probably think you know what the new Cowboy Junkies record sounds like. You don’t. Yes, the trademarks are there. How could it be otherwise after two decades? But they’re all twisted, re-evaluated, renewed. Songs no longer draw life from the understated, almost unheard pulse of Alan Anton’s bassline, a sound that now propels undulating melodies on “Mountain” or “My Little Basquiat”. Anton almost switches places with Margo Timmins, still the most arresting voice in the game, yet buried deeper inside these songs, songs which create a surround sound universe of their own, be it from plaintive acoustics like “Someday Soon” or the kitchen sink overload of “Mountain”, where all hell breaks loose. Tomorrow never knew.
There are changes here that Junkies purists may baulk at. Drummer Pete Timmins is no longer the easygoing engine. Instead he’s embraced edgy percussion, thoughtful rhythms that knock you off kilter, make you listen more carefully. There’s nothing obvious, or easy going on here. Outside studiophile / musician Joby Baker has added a mesh of instrumentation and sounds that take this record a long way from the skeletal nature of “Whites Off Earth Now!!” Strings play a heavy, dramatic role on several songs. And drama is the keynote in a record which you could loosely call a concept album if the term didn’t bring to mind visions of hobbits, pinball players and wizards on ice.
Yet this is a concept record of sorts. A concept record for grown ups. Like his colleagues, songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins has dispensed with standbys and certainties, thrown everything in the air, and begun to rework his craft. Echoing the pacifist sentiment that was the core of their last effort, the quickly recorded “Early 21st Century Blues”, “At The End Of Paths Taken” muses on a particular theme, that of family, the way patterns are repeated from father to son to son and back again, the way the greatest joys bring with them the heaviest burdens, the way the outside world can devastate the closest familial relationship, and the way in which we are all helpless to do anything about it. It’s a record that continues to work through themes of war and peace, a hangover from “Early 21st Century Blues”, looking at how the macro can militate against the micro. It’s a record that looks at the biggest betrayal, the one none of us can avoid, the betrayal of mortality. It’s a record that’s simultaneously about surrender, about giving oneself up to the journey while raging against the pain that creates. That duality, that life is hard, confusing, painful, but still the best thing we’ve managed to come up with so far has long been a core Junkies theme, but on this record, it’s been honed to perfection.
Where Michael Timmins was a short-story writer in song, on this album, he’s a spare, sparse poet, betraying a distinct e.e.cummings influence in lyrics that are impressionistic yet cutting, forensic but embracing, emotional but without a trace of sentimentality. The first track, “Brand New World”, sets the tone, Margo Timmins intoning the list of cares that 40somethings carry about their neck, day after day, “Mouths to feed, Shoes to buy, Rent to pay, Tears to dry”.
The first half of the record covers the darkest fears, that we won’t be up to the job as parents, that we will fail our children or that someone, somewhere will fail all our children, that a madman in the White House could blow us all apart, that a nutcase with a suitcase could take everything down with him. There’s the wonder of fatherhood on the loping, grooving, vaguely sinister “My Little Basquiat”, counterbalanced by the fear of what the world is going to do to those kids when you’re not around to stop it.
Having introduced listeners to new soundscapes, dissonant sounds, powerful emotional terrain, the second half of the record builds and builds, increasingly personal, intimate but wholly identifiable. “Follower2” is a centrepiece, tracing the evolution from father to son, to son becoming father, scraps from Michael’s childhood, inklings from his future, one relationship becoming the other. “I can’t bear to hear his breathing, simply knowing what’s to come”. Is that the breath of a dying father, or a sleeping son, a life full of trials behind or before him? The closing, “Here you will always be, behind me, and you will not go away. Here I will always be, behind you, and I will never go away” is a perfect summation of the handing down of the generations, something picked up on again in “Mountain”, something they used to call a sound collage, mixing the Timmins’ father reading from his memoirs, all kinds of studio samples and sounds, wrenching strings, Margo Timmins wailing “How’d this mountain get so high?” into the abyss. If they hadn’t already come up with the phrase “sensory overload”, you’d have to invent it for this.
But there’s still a peak to come, “My Only Guarantee”. It’s the final twist of the knife, but to say more would be like telling you whodunnit before you started reading a mystery novel. Get the record, set an hour aside, put the headphones on and listen. Really listen. Because the only reference point I can give you to a record this complex, this intriguing, this overloaded with sounds, yet so simple, is one that came out 34 years ago. The effects, the sounds, the overwhelming scale are obvious comparisons, but that’s too facile.
The common ground is that “At The End Of Paths Taken” is a record that somebody needed to make, one that you have to live with from start to finish, one that unfolds, washes over you. It’s a statement of humanity in a dehumanising time, in a time where you’re only supposed to feel what Oprah tells you to feel.
“At The End Of Paths Taken” is a record for those of us who know we don’t know. Take the journey. We’ll meet you on the dark side of the moon.
Monday, August 4th, 2014
It's not a bad way to spend a weekend…shoulder to shoulder with the Rocky Mountains, wandering along the Bow River and playing a bit of music….and that is exactly what we did. We flew to Calgary on Saturday afternoon and then made the short drive down the Trans-Canada to Canmore. This town use to be the place that people settled in if they couldn't afford the prices in Banff. Banff is pretty much full at this point so Canmore, just a few miles away, has taken the overflow….and it ain't cheap anymore. Most of the hippies that hunkered down here in the 70's have long gone, or cut their hair, or invested wisely and have become the town elders. It's hard to imagine a town located in a more beautiful setting, but the rapid expansion has pretty much robbed the place of any claim it once had to quaintness. But man, those mountains and that river, can't be beat.
I got up early on Sunday and Monday and walk the banks of the Bow with my fishing rod in hand. The river was a little blown out so I didn't hold up much hope for an encounter with a Bow River trout. Sure enough I had no luck, but I spent a couple of hours each morning watching the sun rise over the horizon and bounce of the peaks of The Three Sisters….fishing is not always about whether you catch something (actually, it rarely is…).
We were in Canmore to play the local folk festival. This country is chalk-a-blok full of folk festivals during the summer and Alberta probably leads the pack. These are always weird events for us, they can be fun to play because they are so surreal at times and you occasionally get to catch up with a touring friend or two. But they are generally about compromises, because like most outdoor festivals, you rarely find yourself in an environment that you can control and so much of one's show is spent battling the sound and rented gear and an audience that has been overwhelmed with music or who isn't generally interested in the music you make. This was pretty much our experience in Canmore. We were treated great and we had a not bad, not great show…..but man, those mountains and that river…..
Saturday, August 2nd, 2014
In the Fall of 2005 I rented a small house in the Horseshoe Valley (about one hour North of Toronto) a tiny little cottage on a beautiful piece of land that backed on to 40 acres of woods. Running through the woods was a stream that was still used by salmon during the autumn spawning season. I called the house 48 Mill Pond Rd. This is where I escaped to work on the songs that would eventually become At The End Of Paths Taken.
I rarely sit down with the objective of writing a set of songs based on a single theme. Usually the theme or themes suggest themselves as the songs are developed. But for this album I set out to write an album that dealt with “family” and all of the complex relationships that are suggested by the word. Those relationships and how they continue to echo down through generations is something that, as a parent of three young children and as a son of aging parents, had been playing/preying on my mind for the previous few years. As the writing progressed, the songs began to pull in more complex directions. “Family” remained a dominant theme but events of the larger world and how those events, subtly and not so subtly, influence the “family” relationship began to creep in to the songs. It was like the themes that we explored on “Early 21st Century Blues” (violence, fear, greed, war, loss) had not been fully exorcised and were insinuating themselves in to these very intimate songs about the dynamics of personal family relationships. I’m not sure if it is my age or the age we live in, most likely its a combination of the two, but the songs began to hint at themes of inevitability, finality, not exactly predetermination, but a sense of running out of choices, a sense of being at the end of paths taken.
When I brought the songs home from 48 Mill Pond Rd. it was time for us, as a band, to start to develop them. Some made their way to Margo’s Farm where we moved our studio and did an intensive two week session to kick start the project; some ended up in Victoria, BC where Joby Baker added a handful of magic touches; some were completely reworked using bass-lines supplied by Alan; and then there were the strings supplied by Henry Kucharzyk. Here are some of the songs in their various states of being, listen as the songs meander down their separate paths..