The late, troubled Georgia
troubadour’s oeuvre is probed, with sparkling results, by his Canadian friends
and collaborators. Demons
(The Nomad Series Vol.2) is out this week
on Latent/Razor & Tie.
Cowboy Junkies have been, often justifiably, accused of being more concerned
with atmosphere than substance. Not that the Canadian quartet’s palette of
colors – rustic, plangent, ghostly – isn’t appealing in and of itself, but
often it seems like the group is far more concerned with sounds than songs.
It’s no accident that the band’s biggest success – Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” – is
question is: if you marry the Junkies’ distinctive sonic cloud to songwriting
of undeniable merit, would the result be a bouncing baby gem? On the evidence
of Demons, that would a “yes.” The
second in the group’s Nomad Series (a sequence of LPs boasting cover paintings
from Enrique Martinez Celaya’s “Nomad” line), Demons plunges deep into the catalog of the late Vic Chesnutt, a
band friend and inspiration. Shaving the edges off of Chesnutt’s distinctive
quirk, the Junkies focus their energy on the Southern bard’s tunes and passion,
bringing the melodic and emotional starch to the fore on “West of Rome,” “See
You Around” and “Flirted With You All My Life.” The band flexes a surprising
amount of rock muscle on “Ladle” and “Strange Language,” as guitarist Michael
Timmons’ distorted strumming contrasts nicely with sister Margo’s black velvet
vocals. But delicacy is still the Junkies’ strong point, as demonstrated by the
jazzy “We Hovered With Short Wings” and the folk-saturated “Supernatural.” The
band ends the record on a bittersweet note, joining a horn-kissed take on “When
the Bottom Fell Out” with a snippet of Chesnutt himself, onstage charming a
crowd with straight-faced comedy.
triumph of Demons lies not only in
the Cowboy Junkies’ heartfelt tribute to their friend by way of bringing his
music to a new audience, but in also the band itself finding its most perfect
meld of style and substance a quarter century into its career. A second
collection of Cowboy Chesnutt would not go unappreciated.