Posts Tagged ‘Cowboy Junkies’

Cowboy Junkies @ the Birchmere

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Once again, I have a couple shows to report, both at Virginia’s The BirchmereYo La Tengo and Cowboy Junkies (and I’m going back there next Monday to see Robert Fripp). I only have a few minutes right now so I’m going to write about the latter first, as I have a bit more to say about the former.

Cowboy Junkies are an old favorite of mine; I have probably 10 of their albums and always enjoy them when I’m in a quiet mood. They don’t exactly fit in with this website all that much, although one could say that their crossover between old-school country and rock is a reasonably innovative meshing of styles. They boast some excellent musicians, but the heart of the band has always been vocalist Margo Timmins, whose husky, powerful voice is an unmistakable force. I had never seen them in concert before, and they didn’t disappoint, even though I’m not particularly fond of their latest album, At the End of Paths Taken. They played a bunch of stuff from their older albums, including a couple from The Trinity Session, their breakthrough record, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, and a couple from Lay It Down, the 1996 album where I feel they achieved their best marriage of country, rock, and just plain great melodic songwriting.

If I was surprised by anything, it was by how edgy these guys have become. Aside from Timmins’ vocals, Jeff Bird on harmonica and (especially) electric mandolin was absolutely mesmerizing, and he churned out some really great, strident, wonderfully dissonant solos on both instruments. I really didn’t expect them to rock out like that, but Bird was very impressive in that respect. Their closing song was their interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” — on album, this is a stark, almost doomy four-minute interpretation, and live, it was equally stark but stretched out to something closer to 10-15 minutes. This was AWESOME. It was as if the band had suddenly taken a huge dose of Mogwai or GYBE! influnce, or decided to get a bit Krautrocky a la Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” A repetitive, driving bass line underpinned the whole song, while Bird and Mike Timmins on guitar spewed out brief, spiky solos and Margo Timmins mumbled short vocal lines in a resigned, doom-laden fashion. The volume levels were ratcheted up and down with regularity, creating troughs and crescendoes that would make any post-rock band proud. I could hardly believe what I was hearing but this was absolutely great.

I love the Cowboy Junkies for their melodicism, hooks, lyrics, all that good stuff, but I was most impressed by them in concert for their edginess and willingness to experiment and really put on a show instrumentally, especially with that electric mandolin. Quite the pleasant surprise!

What’s spinning, April 25 edition

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

The past two months have seen an unprecedented amount of new music cross my path. Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

  • Aethenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light — Dark ambient stuff by members of Sunn O))) and Guapo (now there’s an inspired combination!). Not surprisingly, this is very creepy stuff, utterly devoid of the structures of the two aforementioned bands.
  • Alamaailman Vasarat - Maahan — Their fourth album harkens back to their earlier material, namely the stuff before the collaboration with Tuomari Nurmio. For most fans, this is a good thing.
  • Michaël Attias - Credo — Very tuneful avant-jazz on Clean Feed. I am starting to really get in to this label, thanks to the prolific amount of material they have on eMusic.
  • Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — A free jazz group collaborates with a garage-rock band, and the result is nothing short of awesome. Seriously.
  • Cowboy Junkies - At the End of Paths Taken — Their umpteenth album is, well, kind of boring, despite a new emphasis on electric instruments and some aggressive instrumental passages.
  • Kevin Drumm - Sheer Hellish Miasma — I’m not a huge noise-rock fan, but this stuff is just brutal. Maybe the most balls-to-the-wall intense electronic music I’ve ever heard, this sure is one aptly titled album.
  • Earthless - Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky — Pretty great heavy space/psych-rock, the kind of thing that readers of the Aural Innovations site will go bananas for.
  • The Electrics - Live at Glenn Miller Café — A nice cross between structured avant-jazz and purely sound-based free improv.
  • Lane/Vandermark/Broo/Nilssen-Love - 4 Corners — I am getting seriously addicted to both Vandermark and Nilssen-Love these days, and this is one of the more immediately accessible collaborations of theirs that I’ve heard lately.
  • Loreena McKennitt - Nights at the Alhambra — Wonderful DVD/2CD set for fans of this Celtic/world musician. The CDs are probably redundant for those who own Live in Paris and Toronto, but the DVD is essential.
  • Nadja - Touched — Sludgy doom-metal that, in my opinion, puts Sunn O))) to shame. Maybe it’s just that this stuff is much more accessible and, dare I say it, almost tuneful.
  • (((Powerhouse Sound))) - Oslo/Chicago: Breaks — More Ken Vandermark; this band seems to be trying to go for the Spaceways Inc. avant-jazz/funk crown, but with more noise and more electronics. I dig it.
  • Runaway Totem - Esameron — Everyone’s favorite second-tier zeuhl band releases their new, well, second-tier zeuhl album. To be honest I find this stuff pretty damn annoying, although fans of their other material (or Amygdala’s album) might like it.
  • David Torn - Prezens — Tim Berne fans relax, this is definitely not the new Hard Cell album despite the lineup. More than anything else, this is like Cloud About Mercury, re-envisioned and updated for the 21st century.

What bands have NO weak albums?

Monday, February 6th, 2006

There’s a small thread going on at ProgressiveEars asking for recommendations of Univers Zero’s music. I posted a quick response, basically saying that I like all of their albums (thus making mine an entirely unhelpful contribution to the discussion), though for different reasons. I really don’t think there’s a weak spot in their entire discography — some 10 albums as of the release of Live last month. Some I like less than others, sure (their first two “reunion” albums are a notch below the rest of their body of work IMHO), but it’s all quite good, with each album subtly different from the ones that came before and after.

I can’t really think of any other band about which I feel this way. There are some bands out there that I like all of their albums, of course, but none with the long history and large discography of Univers Zero. There are plenty of bands who have a great discography but who have released a clunker or two, or at least a couple albums that I’m lukewarm about. There are some non-prog bands, like Cowboy Junkies, Mogwai or The Decemberists, whose discographies I like front to back, following along with their subtle stylistic changes as they evolved, but I don’t like them with the same passion that I have for Univers Zero.

I don’t know. Henry Cow comes close, but they have fewer albums and I’m not a huge fan of the Canterbury-centric sound of Legend. I guess King Crimson comes relatively close as well; I adore a lot of their albums, but I’m not a huge fan of their 80s period and they’ve just released so much material (and I have so much of it) that I’m just not as well-acquainted with a lot of their stuff, compared to how well I know all of UZ’s releases. Perhaps Daniel Denis’ infamous perfectionism, and refusal to release live albums until this new one, pays off in the form of a more concise and lovable discography.

I think I’m rambling a bit, but I think the point is this: there are very, very few bands out there who can say that they’ve released a bunch of albums in a recognizably distinct style, all of excellent quality, yet all of which show enough progression and development such that they don’t all sound alike. I mean, some people probably love all of the Ozric Tentacles‘ or Djam Karet’s albums, but to me they’re all too similar to each other. Univers Zero have avoided that rut, doing something a bit different every time (although arguably the reunion version of the band shows less progression between albums than the classic version) such that every album, despite being in the same overall style, is a unique work that stands well on its own merits. And this is without exception — no clunkers in their history at all!

If I think of another band about which I can say this, I’ll follow up, but I don’t think I will. Univers Zero isn’t my favorite band — I think a decent number of bands have reached greater heights — but perhaps no one in my experience, particularly in the rock music field, has been as consistently good as they have.

What’s spinning, March 26 edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

I’m pretty psyched about some non-prog stuff I’ve gotten lately. Because I don’t really have anything of interest to talk about right now, here’s another list…

  • Cowboy Junkies - Lay It Down
    My favorite of their many studio albums that I’ve recently acquired, this one is just about a perfect meshing of their old-school country roots and their more conventionally rock tendencies. Beautiful and poignant in the music, vocals, and lyrics. Margo Timmins has one of the greatest voices ever.
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet - Vulcan
    After hearing Toh-Kichi, I knew I had to get my hands on this. And it doesn’t disappoint - quite the opposite! Truly fucking awesome - experimental jazz with a rhythm section that absolutely rocks (and has little to do with jazz at all). I also picked up Minerva, the quartet’s second release, but haven’t really listened to it yet as I’ve been digesting Vulcan for the past few days.
  • Kronos Quartet - Nuevo
    Perhaps the best-known avant-gardish string quartet active today performing their versions of traditional and folky Mexican tunes. Extremely - and surprisingly - eclectic, fun, and accessible. Hell, there’s even a dance mix of one of the pieces that closes the album.
  • System of a Down - Toxicity
    Cool pseudo-nu-metal stuff, rather spastic and wacky in exactly the sort of way that really catches my attention, while still being extremely hard-edged and intense. There’s also a nice balance between chugga-chugga metal riffing and more diverse guitar work, and the heavily politicized lyrics and fairly unique vocal stylings don’t hurt either.
  • Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    Yeah, I’m late to get on this bandwagon. The last Wilco I heard was Being There, which I hated so much I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I first bought it on a random whim (based entirely on the cool packaging and the fact that it was $10 for two CDs) five years ago. Maybe I’ll have to go back and give it another chance, cause this album has some pretty great pop music that’s just out-there enough to be interesting while remaining readily accessible.

Extreme metal is good shit

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

Strangely, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to extreme metal (mostly Dillinger Escape Plan and Cephalic Carnage) and the Cowboy Junkies (mostly Pale Sun, Crescent Moon, Lay It Down, and Black Eyed Man) lately. I found five (count ‘em) Cowboy Junkies albums and a Cephalic Carnage album in the used bin at the local CD store, which was really great. I also saw a copy of Krakatoa’s Togetherness there today, which absolutely shocked me. That’s a pretty rare find anywhere, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to randomly see it in a used bin somewhere. So anyone near New Haven, take note and get thy ass over to Cutler’s!

I’m finding that listening to extreme metal, for me, is almost like listening to ambient music. That is, I can either let it play in the background, and because it’s so consistently loud and fast and aggressive, it’s pretty easy to tune out and it turns into white noise (good for studying, for example); or I can listen to it actively, and there’s so much going on that there’s plenty to keep me occupied. This is a pretty cool trait of the music, I think; and maybe it’s not as weird as it first sounds, given the occasional affinity between the ambient and noise genres and some genres of metal.

So Massive Attack is doing some of the soundtrack for the new Matrix film, eh. It better be something a bit more aggressive than 100th Window. I don’t remember anything about the music for the first film, except for “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine at the end, which I thought was an entirely appropriate and bad-ass placement of that song.