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
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.