It has been six years since the Cowboy Junkies last released an album. The Nomad Series may have been something of a diversion for the band although it included some of their best work, particularly on Renmin Park, but with All That Reckoning they are back in their mainstream. I will admit to having all their albums and having had the pleasure of meeting Margo and Michael Timmins but I always hesitate before reviewing one of their albums for fear of over-analysing. All That Reckoning is no different.
The title track is in two parts. Part one, which opens the album, begins with Alan Anton’s subterranean bass. In an odd way it reminds me of Dylan’s ‘Tears Of Rage’ in that there seems to be a sub-text that I can’t quite figure out. Part two, is much heavier, and makes me think of Leonard Cohen – if Cohen had ever fronted a big rock band. You’ll probably hear something else entirely which is what I mean about over-analysing. ‘When We Arrive’ includes the killer line “welcome to the world of self-delusion” – a song about immigrants in the 21st century? ‘The Things We Do To Each Other’ is another killer song that is overtly political in a way that we don’t expect to hear from Cowboy Junkies. “You can control hate” sings Margo and if the song isn’t about Trump I’m the nylon-haired scion of European immigrants. The song ends on an optimistic note – it can’t last forever.
The record’s sound is typical Junkies with Anton’s bass and Michael Timmins’ guitar providing the foundation of the songs with Peter Timmins’ drums mostly restrained. Jeff Bird is undoubtedly doing clever things over the top but I have no information about what he or other musicians are doing but there are synths and reversed tapes involved. Actually, the restraint lasts until ‘Sing Me A Song’ when the bass and drums pound, the lead guitar screams and Margo’s voice is distorted. You won’t be allowed to drift away on a swathe of gentle music for a while. ‘Missing Children’ is something of a puzzle – I think it’s about the end of youthful dreams but here again the band is at full blast and Margo iis sometimes lost in the mix. Is ‘Shining Teeth’ about domestic abuse? It feels like it is but I’m just piecing clues together from the lyrics.
The final track, ‘The Possessed’, introduced by a solo ukulele trashes all the mythology of Satanic contracts. There is no deal at the midnight crossroads, no ‘Devil And The Feathery Wife’. In this song the devil appears as something desirable and he has you. There really is a moral there. Michael Timmins describes Al That Reckoning as being deeper and more complete than anything Cowboy Junkies have done before. I can’t help but agree with him.
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‘All That Reckoning’ – official video: