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Cowboy Junkies - Demons

  by Richard Lewis

published: 4 / 3 / 2011

Cowboy Junkies - Demons
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD


Moving collection from the Cowboy Junkies of covers of their late friend, singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who committed suicide in late 2009

A scarcely believable quarter of a century almost since their wonderful second album, 'The Trinity Session', announced their arrival, The Cowboy Junkies have re-emerged, reinvigorated by the establishment of their own label, Latent Recordings. With the original line-up still intact, as part of their new found freedom they have created the ‘Nomads’ series, four albums recorded within the span of eighteen months. Volume Two, 'Demons', features the songs of Vic Chessnut, who guested on the band’s 2007 re-imagining of their classic debut. Whilst material by other artists has always formed a considerable part of the Junkies’ catalogue, on 'Demons' the quartet deliver an LP solely dedicated to the work of one performer. Hailing from the musically fertile Athens, Georgia, Chesnutt was hugely admired amongst fellow musicians, yet never found mainstream fame. Partially paralyzed following a car crash at the age of nineteen, he was only able to play simple guitar chords following the accident. Gigs at the famed 40 Watt Club in his hometown piqued the interest of fellow Athenian Michael Stipe, who produced Chestnutt’s 1990 debut LP 'Little'. Attracting the attention of the mainstream in the mid-nineties, Vic cultivated a considerable cult following in the ensuing years. With the present group renowned for their twilight-tinged beauty and seemingly effortless melodicism, both band and songwriter complement each other’s work perfectly. The band’s re-interpretation of the singer’s work also adds to the highly impressive list of acts who covered Vic’s material, as Sparklehorse, Garbage, R.E.M., Soul Asylum and Smashing Pumpkins all contributed to the Sweet Relief charity album in 1996 that significantly raised his profile. Opening with ‘Wrong Piano’, Michael Timmins’ guitar slaloming across the sound, backed by Al Cooper esque organ, the simpatico between the Timmins’ siblings and bassist Alan Anton is as strong as ever. ‘Flirted With You All My Life’, despite the uplifting gospel-like vocal, is one of the darkest tracks Chestnutt ever composed. Addressed directly to the Grim Reaper himself, the songwriter made several unsuccessful suicide attempts, glimpsed in the opening couplet, "I’ve flirted with you all my life/Even kissed you once or twice." ‘Ladle’ rings the maximum out of a restless blues riff, overlaid with a keening Margo Timmins’ vocal and desolate, wandering guitar. Following this, ‘Supernatural’ truly raises the hair on the back of the neck, a slow, spare lament underscored by delicately played nylon strung guitars, shot through with eerie cello, Margo’s voice barely raising from a whisper for much of the track. The bleak, ‘West of Rome’, driven by a slowly uncoiling acoustic guitar riff concerns a man “Polishing his boots/And pummeling his liver,” the lyric stunning in it’s novelistic detail, Margo’s always exquisite vocals conveying the full weight of the world-weary lyric. The upbeat ‘Strange Language’ meanwhile provides a bright spot on the album, its New Orleans’ horn section soaring as the track progresses. Followed by ‘We Hovered with Short Wings’, led by Parisian sounding clarinet and Peter Timmins’ brushed snare, sounds akin to one of Sufjan Steven’s slower moments. Concluding with ‘When the Bottom Fell Out’, prefaced with a brief snippet of Vic joking with an audience in a club, the track, powered by a warm Hammond organ riff and understated brass section provides a cautiously optimistic finale for the LP. A fitting tribute to a considerable talent tragically cut short, 'Demons' adds to t Cowboy Junkies’ formidable catalogue and grows in stature with each listen, proving extremely moving in its own quiet way.

Track Listing:-
1 Wrong Piano
2 Flirted With You All My Life
3 See You Around
4 Betty Lonely
5 Square Room
6 Ladle
7 Supernatural
8 West Of Rome
9 Strange Language
10 We Hovered With Short Wings
11 When The Bottom Fell Out

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