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music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Open

Artist: Cowboy Junkies
Genre: Rock
Release Date: May 2001

Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

Open, the latest CD from the Canadian band led by the Timmins siblings, takes a while to get going. It starts with unfocused, dreamy songs that don't play to the band's strengths. But as Open progresses, it showcases Margo Timmins' wonderful, expressive voice and Michael Timmins' austere but tuneful writing.

Open's first songs are striking but I find them too dark, laid back and spacy to appreciate, especially for four songs that stretch out over 25 minutes . Margo Timmins quietly sings I Did It All For You's five minute tale of awful murders over very restrained, dreamy guitars and keyboards. Dragging Hooks, the third part of the River Song Trilogy that started on the Lay It Down and Rarities CDs, starts with a long, meandering instrumental intro. With a harmonica and jazzy feel, Dragging Hooks is a haunting song about lives lost to the river but its eight minutes tests your patience. Finally on Bread And Wine, Peter Timmins lays down a real beat and Margo sings above a whisper but it's still pretty depressing stuff. The song is infused with the sadness and guilt of knowing "the one that I'm with is not the one bouncing 'round my head." Bread And Wine is interestingly moody but mostly it's draggy and self pitying.

Things start to improve with Upon Still Waters, which is fairly modest but is the first song to benefit from the rich, warm yet enigmatic quality of Margo's voice. Michael supports it with a good electric guitar line though his solo is pointlessly indulgent. Margo is sexy and compelling on Dark Hole Again, singing she feels like she's stuck in a hole and wondering if it's worth it to struggle back up, but the eight minute song is filled with instrumental passages and often overwhelmed by showy psychedelic guitar.

Open's second half is Cowboy Junkies at their best. It has two good ballads. Thousand Year Prayer has a clean, very minimal sound that's mostly Linford Detweiler's piano backing Margo's pristine vocal. Michael's appreciation of love starts with an apology to God and a joke: we've screwed up your planet's environment "but you've got Jimi Hendrix so let's call it an even split." Beneath The Gate is a heartbreaking, sweet ballad. Michael does his trademark easy strum under Margo's glowing vocals about "the rare good will of the random world": an abandoned baby found by a couple in need.

At the end of Open the band show they can infuse their thoughtful sound with rhythmic energy. I'm So Open, which reminds me of Victoria Williams' Train Song, is the latest of the band's great loose midtempo singles. Michael Timmins' low key Bo Diddley shuffle and Peter Timmins' light, cymbal based drumming juice up the song. Like on Horse In The Country or Anniversary Song, Margo's vocal is pure, buoyant joy as she counts the blessings life has already brought and looks forward to whatever the future holds. Small Swift Birds also has a winning feel with bright, easy keyboards and drums. The song delights in the beauty and bounty of the human experience even as it laments our lack of appreciation of it. Open finishes well. Detweiler's Piano and Margo's sultry vocal give Close My Eyes a cool swagger.

Open presents two sides of Cowboy Junkies. The first half spotlights Michael Timmins' jazzy, psychedelic guitar and is more atmospheric. Apparently, Open is a loosely linked song cycle and the moody, depressing songs of its first half are meant to make the second half's melodic, hopeful songs even more rewarding. I'd prefer if more of Open's sound matched the CD's title. Cowboy Junkies' greatest asset is Margo Timmins' warm, expressive voice. They also have Michael Timmins' ability to write simple, evocative, appealing songs. In the second half of Open, when the band takes advantage of their gifts, very good things happen.



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