Cowboy Junkies

REVIEW: Cowboy Junkies “Such Ferocious Beauty”


Cowboy Junkies – Such Ferocious Beauty

There are about a million different ways to say it, but the meaning’s the same – nothing lasts forever. The Timmins siblings (Michael, Margo and Peter) are reckoning with this reality in the way that many families do – losing a parent to dementia. That loss, and “impermanence” (as Michael says) as a whole, is the focus of the latest album from Cowboy Junkies. The Timminses, along with longtime bassist and family friend Alan Anton, address what’s leaving, what’s already gone, and the good that’s still here on Such Ferocious Beauty.

The record starts off with the sense of displacement familiar to dementia victims. A foggy-brained morning and a simmering guitar line characterize “This Is What I Lost,” a story told largely from the perspective of Timmins’ father – “I looked at the room/And didn’t know where I was/Or if I ever was.” Margo’s typically hushed tones become more urgent, and Michael’s guitar more frantically jagged, as their father sifts through seemingly random memories while trying to pull himself into the present – “You ask me how I am/What am I supposed to say?” “Shadows 2” (inspired by the DH Lawrence poem “Shadows”) is a gentler rumination on that loss, told from the perspectives of both father and child, sharing those quiet moments as one life slowly draws to a close – “I can sit here and stare/As you shuffle the pieces once again/And search for the words/That flutter like birds across your eyes.”

Mortality is but one of the types of impermanence found on Such Ferocious Beauty. “Hard to Build, Easy to Break” is sonically the most typical Cowboy Junkies-esque song on the record – driven by Anton’s chugging bass line and Michael’s slowly evolving guitar textures – while Margo (still, and always, one of popular music’s most indelible voices) sings of our historical nature to destroy what was so difficult to construct, all while coveting something “better” – “Love the things you do not know/Eat the things you do.” Likewise, “Flood,” which begins with a screech of electric guitar, features characters who fill their lives with emptiness – “He had a large house, big dreams/And he filled them one by one” – while fighting against life’s ebbs and flows at the expense of ultimately finding simple contentment – “let the current carry me/Through such ferocious beauty.”

For Cowboy Junkies, that beauty has always resided most deeply in their ability to deliver a sad, subtle gut punch – their classic record The Trinity Session was full of ‘em. Here, we get that at the very end. “Blue Skies,” which begins with nature sounds before becoming a mournful acoustic guitar ballad that warns against always looking – “You can burn all your daylight/Searching for a new sky/But then, just there, you’ll be” – while wasting the life right in front of you. That present is fleeting – again, nothing lasts forever. But, after more than three decades, the Timmins family making their music – their way – is about as close as forever gets.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “MIke Tyson (Here It Comes)” – Didn’t expect a 90s boxing reference, did you? The Junkies turn Tyson’s brusque lesson on crisis management on its ear – “Some look within, some look without/The search begins as do the doubts” – and set it against a low-key theatrical Western score.

Such Ferocious Beauty was produced by Michael Timmins and mastered by Peter J Moore. Songs written by Michael Timmins (co-writes with Alan Anton). Cowboy Junkies are Michael Timmins (guitars), Margo Timmins (vocals), Peter Timmins (drums) and Alan Anton (bass). Additional musicians include James McKie (fiddle) and Kyle Sullivan (drums).

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