The Wilderness, Volume 4 – The Nomad Series

Track Listing
  1. Unanswered Letter
  2. Idle Tales
  3. We Are The Selfish Ones
  4. Angels In The Wilderness
  5. Damaged From The Start
  6. Fairytale
  7. Staring Man
  8. The Confession of Georgie E
  9. I Let Him In
  10. Fuck, I Hate the Cold

Cowboy Junkies Are:
Margo Timmins - vocals
Michael Timmins - guitar
Peter Timmins - drums
Alan Anton - bass

Musical Guests:
Jeff Bird (electric and acoustic mandolin); Joby Baker (Wurlitzer, piano and organ on Idle Tales, Unanswered Letter, Damaged From The Start; bowed bass and background vocals on Unanswered Letter and Idle Tales; and drums on Idle Tales and Unanswered Letter); Miranda Mulholland (violin); Michael Davidson (vibraphone); Jesse O’Brien (organ, piano and Wurlitzer); Matt Bailey (lead electric guitar on Fuck, I Hate The Cold and The Confession Of Georgie E).

Produced, engineered and mixed by Michael Timmins. Recorded and mixed at The Clubhouse in Toronto, Ontario. Additional recording by Joby Baker at Baker Studios in Victoria BC. Mastered by Peter J Moore at the E Room.

All songs written by Michael Timmins. The first verse of the song Staring Man is taken from the Elizabeth Bishop poem To Be Written on the Mirror in Whitewash (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The song Angels In The Wilderness owes a great debt to the book Gilead (Picador) by Marilynne Robinson. The line "All things change to something new, something strange" in We Are The Selfish Ones is a paraphrase of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote.

SOCAN. All songs published by Paz Junk Music in North America and by Carthage Music in ROW.

Graphic Design by Alice Phieu (alicephieu.com) assisted by Peter Timmins; Cover images by Enrique Martinez Celaya (whaleandstar.com)

Happy Festivus…Angels In The Wilderness

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Here is the quasi-title track from the upcoming Volume 4 (The Wilderness)…our holiday gift to all of you for taking the time and making the effort to listen to what we create. This song owes a huge debt to the Marilynne Robinson novel “Gilead” (as do many of the songs on “The Wilderness”). I have a habit of copying inspiring passages or lines in my notebook when I am reading. I often refer to these notes when I’m doing my own writing or when I’m stuck and looking for a direction. I think I could have copied half of this novel into my notebook. The novel takes the form of a letter written by an elderly, dying pastor to his seven year old son. It is a dense read and the type of book that you only want to undertake when you know you have a good stretch of time to devote to sitting, reading and thinking (such a luxury these days, eh?). Here is a sampling from the book…mull on these thoughts as you stand in line at Target, waiting to return Uncle Ernie’s holiday offerings…”A father must finally give his child up to the wilderness – trust that there will be angels in that wilderness.” …and as you inch closer to the cashier…”We fly forgotten as a dream, leaving the forgetful world behind us to trample and mar and misplace everything we have ever cared for. That is just the way of it, and it is remarkable.” Have a fantastic break…enjoy the music.
 

The Wilderness (volume 4) – Introduction

I began work on many of the songs that found their way onto The Wilderness in late 2007/ early 2008, (months before my family and I took off for China, the trip that would inspire Renmin Park, the album that would kick off The Nomad Series). Some friends of mine had graciously given me the use of their writers retreat: an old crumbling cottage perched high upon the Niagara Escarpment about one hour north of Toronto. I spent several days a month, over the course of that winter, huddled by the enormous woodstove, watching the snow drift and the birds come into the feeders, plunking away on my J200, trying to figure out what direction our next album should take. Some of these songs made it as far as the concert stage, and throughout the Spring and Summer of 2008 we performed them on tour. But I could never get a handle on the collection of songs that was beginning to emerge. They never felt part of a single “piece”; I couldn’t figure out what tied them all together and therefore had no direction to chase them and without a direction it seemed pointless to try and form them into a defined collection of songs. But then my trip to China intervened and with that came a whole set of new ideas and the preliminary concept for the Nomad Series. From the outset it was decided that many of the songs that we had been working on before China, would be held on to until Volume 4. We figured that with the luxury of time and distance we would be able to get some perspective on these songs, so we put them away.
Sure enough, time and distance did the trick, but so did the chance coupling of this set of songs and Enrique’s winterscape that graces the album cover. The Wilderness which I had originally chosen as a “place holder” while we mocked up the cover, became the perfect title. Enrique’s painting became the physical manifestation of these songs, this is what these songs “looked” like. And the title, The Wilderness, in some odd way seemed to define what these songs were actually “about”: fragility, emptiness, loneliness, beauty, loss, desperation, the delicate balancing act that makes up a life. They are about being lost in the wilderness of age, the wilderness of parenthood, in the wilderness of just trying to find meaning and substance, happiness and truth in ones day to day life. They are about standing alone in middle of it all, breathing in the cold still air and wondering.
 

Fairytale is one of the first songs that I wrote for The Wilderness. Here is my demo for it. (The Wilderness will be for sale from our site starting February 23rd)

The Nomad Tour begins on February 23rd. The first leg brings us through the North East USA: Ithaca, West Long Branch, Providence, Ridgefield, Annapolis, Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Charleston, Harrisburg, Boston, Philadelphia, West Hampton Beach.

The Wilderness (volume 4) – Unanswered Letter

Last Spring a long time friend of the band, John Bottomley, a fellow musician, died unexpectedly (as they euphemistically say in the obituaries these days). John had been living on Vancouver Island for many years. He had fallen in love with the mountains, the rivers and the trees, but, I guess, had fallen out of love with life. At his funeral his mother lamented the fact that John had settled out west, if only he had been living closer to home, back in Ontario, closer to his family and friends, closer to his roots, if only….
Unanswered Letter was the last song that I wrote for The Wilderness and the last song that I wrote for The Nomad Series. It was a few days after John’s funeral and I headed up to Margo’s farm to try and finish off a few songs: a beautiful spring weekend, with all of the streams and rivers roaring and the spring migration gathering steam (not unlike the weekend weather that had inspired the song Good Friday fifteen years earlier). As I sat beside the river that flows across Margo’s property I thought about John and tried to imagine a state of mind in which even the chatter of a returning red-wing blackbird, a harbinger in these parts of warmer, brighter, easier days to come, could be interpreted as a mocking, insulting cry, “I am home and you are not”.

After Pete, Al, Margo and I had worked up a bedtrack for the song I sent it out to Joby Baker in Victoria, to see where his imagination and talent would take the song. Joby had worked with John on his last album, but I didn’t tell Joby what or who the song was about. What I got back was completely unexpected; an eerie, haunted backing track of bowed bass and ghostly vocals. What was most unexpected was that the song now sounded like a John Bottomley song….the mystery of the creative process: it keeps some of us going, until it doesn’t.
Here is the demo that I wrote and recorded that beautiful Spring day:

Her heart torn open
and left like an unanswered letter.

Words were not spoken
just left in a spidery scrawl.

Twisted and gutted,
the last of the smoke in the air.

She gets up to leave
and idly fixes her hair.

Words from home, words from home.
What we miss are words from home.

I lost my heart
I left it alongside the river.

That blackbird clucking
songs he knows nothing about.

That bird returning
to a home that makes him sing out.

Words from home, words from home.
What we need are words from home.

We will be having a listening party for The Wilderness on the site on February 23rd (which is the day that we will also start pre-orders for the album). Stop by and give the album a listen.

The Nomad Tour begins on February 23rd. The first leg brings us through the North East USA: Ithaca, West Long Branch, Providence, Ridgefield, Annapolis, Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Charleston, Harrisburg, Boston, Philadelphia, West Hampton Beach.

The Wilderness (volume 4) – We Are The Selfish Ones

When I write I need seclusion: somewhere to sit and stare and think and mutter to myself and plink away on my guitar. I often rely on the kindness of strangers (or family and friends) and borrow their unused rural retreats, where I set up for a week at a time and get lost in myself. It’s a completely egocentric, selfish way to spend ones time…and I love it. I think it’s my favourite part of an album project: the week starts with an empty page and six tuned strings and ends up with a song, alchemy at its finest. One of the locations where I wrote a lot of the songs for The Wilderness was a small cottage in Presqu’ile Park, set on the shore of Lake Ontario about two hours east of Toronto. We Are The Selfish Ones is, in some ways, a song about the process of creating, it’s about sitting and reflecting, it’s a nod to those of us lucky enough to make a living reflecting our inner most thoughts back at the world. Here is my song-writing demo for the song…I ended up adding another verse right before Margo sang the version that ended up on The Wilderness.

He sits alone in his perfect shack
the lake beside him freezing
the sun no longer shining
much past four o’clock.

We are the selfish ones
We are the lucky ones
We are the needed ones

She falls asleep, the book on her lap,
“all things change to something new,
something strange.”

We are the selfish ones
We are the lucky ones
We are the needed ones

We walk along with my hand on your back,
the days behind receding
forward to a day when all we love will pass.

We are the selfish ones
We are the lucky ones
We are the needed ones

He sits alone in his perfect shack
the lake beside him freezing
the sun no longer shining
much past four o’clock.

Previous blogs about the making of The Wilderness, Angels in The Wilderness, Fairytale, Unanswered Letter.
 

We will be having a listening party for The Wilderness on the site on February 23rd (which is the day that we will also start pre-orders for the album). Stop by and give the album a listen.

The Nomad Tour begins on February 23rd. The first leg brings us through the North East USA: Ithaca, West Long Branch, Providence, Ridgefield, Annapolis, Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Charleston, Harrisburg, Boston, Philadelphia, West Hampton Beach.

The Wilderness (volume 4) – Demons

Take a bit of Nebraska; a bit of Badlands; sprinkle in a couple of characters from The Caution Horses. Mix it together with my orange Resolectric and whisk in a fading Fall evening by Lake Ontario. And then pour it all into the mold formed by the attempted hard-wiring of a Catholic upbringing…and, voila…..Demons:

I was taught that there are
demons out there
so that’s what I believe.
You take away my demons
you take away my peace.

Broke my leg
at the age of twelve
couldn’t kneel beside the bed.
Learnt the lesson of habit
the prayers I left for dead.

Met him in
a corner booth
the jukebox at his side.
He took away all my quarters
he took me for a ride.

I saw his eyes
when the fires on
I never want that blaze to die.
If you take away the burning embers
you take away the burning sky.

If I could switch it
all around
I’d make you my very first kiss.
I’d take away the mystery
just to see what I missed.

I was taught that there are
demons out there
so that’s what I believe.

Previous blogs about the making of The Wilderness, Angels in The Wilderness, Fairytale, Unanswered Letter, We Are The Selfish Ones.
 

We will be having a listening party for The Wilderness on the site on February 23rd (which is the day that we will also start pre-orders for the album). Stop by and give the album a listen.

The Nomad Tour begins on February 23rd. The first leg brings us through the North East USA: Ithaca, West Long Branch, Providence, Ridgefield, Annapolis, Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Charleston, Harrisburg, Boston, Philadelphia, West Hampton Beach.