YOU KNOW THERE’S SOMETHING seriously wrong when the unnamed ‘secret’ 11th track of your album is the best thing on it. Not that this seems to worry the Cowboy Junkies, who’ve tucked the song away at the end of ‘Miles From Our Home’ like it’s an embarrassing doodle rather than a beautifully dusty, husky last-drop-of-whiskey lament.
But that’s the Cowboy Junkies all over, really. On this, their seventh album, they still haven’t discovered how to work to their strengths. The fragile, shimmering, Eastern-inflected groove of ‘Blue Guitar’ and the delicate Van Morrison-style spirit of ‘Darkling Days’ both reveal a band capable of dazzling pastoral touches. Bolstered by John Leckie’s fulsome production, however, any subtlety is lost beneath layers of shiny guitar noise, rendering many songs about as atmospheric as a Scottish Widows commercial.
Not that it’s entirely his fault, despite his desire to see the band rock out in a ‘Drivetime Classics’ style. Always closer to the Heartbreakers of Tom Petty than Johnny Thunders, the Junkies reach such a level of AOR sophistication on the title track that it’s hard to believe that this is the same band behind the raw, ingenuous ‘Trinity Sessions’ album. While Michael Timmins’ lyrics are still infused with a rural, Sam Shepard-style grit, his sister Margo’s delivery is now so passionless and matronly as to render the landscapes they conjure flat and vacant.
Very difficult not to mention Sheryl Crow, too. Oops.