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Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes

Artist: Cowboy Junkies
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: June 1999

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

It looked like 1999 would go by without a new Cowboy Junkies CD. It turns out that the Rarities CD is not only a good stopgap for the band's fans but a very good record, period. The songs are not raw, first drafts but fully produced works that were not previously released for reasons generally not related to quality. While they're a good band who make beautiful records, Cowboy Junkies can be a little dry and serious. While it has its share of slow, introspective songs, Rarities has more relaxed songs than some of the band's other records and that is a plus. The record starts well with I Saw Your Shoes. Margo Timmins' vocals are loose and sexy on the inventive love song. She sings of being not just reminded by the shoes but also aroused and led to remember the things she loves about her guy. The music, with Michael Timmins' great edgy, feedback filled guitar reflects the excitement Margo sings about. The band also has fun with Bob Dylan's If You Gotta Go, Go Now. Margo Timmins doesn't have Dylan's snide sense of humor but her relaxed singing clearly expresses the idea that she's not going to be devastated if some guy wants to leave, especially if he doesn't want to be with her. The band gives the song a 60's style arrangement with good, loose guitar and piano and a groovy harmonica. Leaving Normal, written for but not used in the movie of the same name is slight but charming. The song starts by using the movie's strained idea of Normal being the name of a town as well as a state of mine but deepens in describing a woman's attempt to escape a series of bad experiences, finding bad signs(having to tell a fellow passenger, "this trip would go a whole lot smoother if you took your hand from there") mixed with good.

There are a number of slowish, traditional Cowboy Junkies songs that show the band's talent for making moving, atmospheric music.. They're all pretty serious but the best ones don't get too heavy. As the title promises, the record has a few slow, sad waltzes. Five Room Love Story shows Michael Timmins' ability to write detailed lyrics that evoke real life scenes. The song is about an old man who, after the woman he was married to for most of his life dies, spends the rest of his life creating a loving memorial. The austere music with piano, mandolin, Margo's unshowy vocals and Michael's trademark lightly strummed guitar match the simple, beautiful story. The band creates vivid pictures of love/hate relationships on a couple songs cowritten by Michael and Margo. Love's Still There is a sweet countryish waltz about a couple who care for each other despite their destructive arguments. Margo sings "love's still there, it's just hiding in the dark because it's scared." The livelier A Few Simple Words is similarly about the little manifestations of love that can make a contentious relationship tolerable. The song's woman says, "honey, you're a bastard of great proportion." The man responds, "darling I plead guilty to that sin" but adds(as he eats his potatoes), "without a doubt, my love for you is all I believe in." River Waltz is a sweet song with a simple, retro feel. Margo sings of making a pact with the river to provide her undemanding family's basic needs.

The only song on Rarities I could do without is the band's very spare, serious version of the Grateful Dead's Lay Me Down. The record finishes with a bonus track, the band's version of Bruce Springsteen's My Father's House. Like Rarities in general, the song mixes the band's gorgeous, personal, stark music with a little fun. Margo's a capella vocals are stirring until, at the end, she is joined by a goofy, possibly drunk male chorus. While Studio, the greatest hits package, may be the best introduction to the band and all their records have worthwhile moments, Rarities is a good chance to hear a smart, interesting band.



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