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Early 21st Century Blues

Cowboy Junkies

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Album Review

It's been over 15 years since the Cowboy Junkies dropped their sparse masterpiece The Trinity Session. Recorded with very little gear in the span of one evening, it introduced the group's signature "sepia-drone" delivery to the world, a style that's never really undergone any surgery. Early 21st Century Blues attempts to build a bridge between 1988 and 2005 with a new collection of standards, covers, and originals that employ that same minimalist approach and scant recording time — five days this time around. Built around the themes of "war, violence, fear, greed, ignorance, and loss," the familial quartet, along with a handful of friends, presents the works of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, and U2 as filtered through the half-time heartbeat that is the Cowboy Junkies' trademark. Anyone even remotely familiar with the group can look at a song like "One," "Isn't It a Pity," or "Two Soldiers" on paper and hear the version come to life in his or her head. All of the intimacy, heavy guitar reverb, smoky vocals, and snares kissed by brushes that fans have come to expect are here, rolling in like a harmless summer rain dressed in the dark clouds of a storm. The only exception, an awkward hip-hop version of Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier," featuring a rap by Kevin Bond (aka Rebel), is so out of place that it's almost refreshing, rounding out a collection of reliable late-night jams that will appeal to the choir, but not the whole church.

Customer Reviews

Peace, Love, & Junkies

21st Century Blues is not so much a protest statement as it is a collection of cover songs condemning war and hate. Still offended by a possible lack of patriotism? Relax – it’s the Cowboy Junkies, a blues folk family band from Canada. As a fan you will be looking for some dusty gems to uncover. The traditional “Two Soldiers” is a dark hued modern folk song. “Brothers under the Bridge” is a captivating cover from Bruce Springsteen. I passed over “Handouts in the Rain” by Richie Havens several times, but it turned out to be a real find. The last song “One” by U2 is a popular gem that sparkles slowly. The album is not without flaws but fans and casual listeners alike should appreciate this CJs album. Not published for radio or available in stores it is a nice find on I-tunes.

Looking Down From the North

The too often overlooked band from Canada weighs in on the current political climate with some beautiful covers and two originals all held together thematically. Instead of the anger pouring from the sweat drenched amps of Green Day, the band makes a case for peace through the delicate and mighty voice of Margo Timmins. The Lennon (and even Junkies) purists will be caught off guard by the ambitious "I Don't Want To Be A Soldier" but nobody will be able to deny the power of a female reading of Springsteen's "You're Missing".

If you could be disappointed....

....with anything from the Cowboy Junkies, this would be the example. Much like Tori Amos' Strange Little Girls, this is a compilation of cover music meant to deliver a theme. Just as I would prefer to hear the inner thinkings of Tori Amos from Tori Amos, I prefer to hear the thoughts penned by Michael Timmins and delivered with the soul of Margo Timmins when listening to the Junkies. That said, George Harrison never put as much feeling into "Isn't It A Pity" and Bruce Springsteen should consider doing "You're Missing" as a (dare I say it?) duet with Margo. My least favorite of the Cowboy Junkies collection, and I have them all, but still worthwhile.


Formed: 1985 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although it didn't originally have anything to do with their sound, the Cowboy Junkies' name wound up seeming pretty accurate: their music was grounded in traditional country, blues, and folk, yet drifted along in a sleepy, narcotic haze that clearly bore the stamp of the Velvet Underground. The vast majority of their songs were spare and quiet, taken at lethargic tempos and filled with languid guitars and detached, ethereal vocals courtesy of Margo Timmins....
Full Bio

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