“Fear is not so far from hate. So if you get the folks to fear. It only takes one small twist. To kick up a gear”. Something that’s been consistent in the 32 years of Canadian alt-country siblings pact Cowboy Junkies is that the quartet really care about society and community. There’s a humility and niceness about their personality that’s made their band name (which suggests selfishness and egotism) a contradictory misnomer. Examples of their humbleness come from their constant music tributes to deceased artists and influential people in their lives, their cherished sentimentality around live concerts but also importantly in their urge to bring people together with their music lyrically.
The theme of Cowboy Junkies’s latest 16th album All That Reckoning – six years since their self-indulgent Nomad project – feels like a combination of the interconnection concept of One Soul Now (2004), the politically charged protest of Early 21st Century Blues (2005) and the mature growing-up outlook of At The End Of The Paths Taken (2007).
In an interview for The Colarado Sound, lyricist Michael Timmins pointed out Cowboy Junkies’ current mindset of looking at the world: “ I feel that we are living through an age where most of the conventions, institutions, morals and belief systems that our culture and modern civilisation have been built on are crumbling/and or being discarded.” There’s some reflection-inducing lyrics on All That Reckoning that are inspiring and meaningful and help the Canadian’s new record become not only another statistic in their music chapter.
Lead singer Margo Timmins sings a beautifully contrasting lyric on ‘Missing Children’: “You only see them briefly. Perhaps just one edition. Their end-of-year photo stares out. You only see them briefly. And it’s muggin’ politicians. Cock-eyed, their faces stare out.” Although ‘On When We Arrive’ Timmins is more straight-to-the-point when saying: “Welcome to the age of disillusion. To the days of death and anger. Old ideas becomin’ stronger.”
Similar lines can also be found on single ‘The Things We Do To Each Other’, which is accompanied by a music video showcasing clips of televised violence and injustice: “And you can only control hate. But only for so long. And when you lose control, oh man.” While final track ‘The Possessed’ sounds like typical country-associated remark about observing the devil, it’s a nice throwback to simpler times and traditional belief systems and is purposeful comparison to modern hate. It’s simple summery plucking of the guitar supporting that theory.
All That Reckoning will please fans who love the earlier absorbing mellow side of Cowboy Junkies, but those tracks this time include effective touches of psychedelic woozy synth effects that ripple, glide and shiver and add a layer that prevents the mood from becoming narcoleptic. There’s also evidence of the grittier rock elements that have developed later in the band’s history, most notably on ‘Missing Children’ and ‘Sing Me A Song’. This balance of two styles in perhaps best summed up by the two faces of title track All That Reckoning, Part 1 is being restrained and Part 2 being hard-hitting.
All That Reckoning isn’t ground-breaking musically for Cowboy Junkies but it’s a really well-produced, self-assured and enjoyable listen that can be played multiple types and one that could have only made by a band with a long rich life experience.