The 30 year-old grassroots band, Cowboy Junkies, mixes blues, country, folk and rock in a way that makes it perpetually sound like the late sixties, early seventies. Lyrics of predominantly original songs change, music, not so much. Uncompromising, they’ve developed a following. Tonight’s concert announces the new CD, All That Reckoning. “What we’re doin’ here is what we always do, we’re just tryin’ to sell records.”
It’s practically impossible to judge a group whose lyrics are obscured by the overriding/hot sound of electric bass. While diehard fans may be familiar with studio representation of older songs, understanding new ones is a crap shoot. Perhaps it helps to have an ear tuned to Margo Timmins hushed, muttered, swallowed, somewhat nasal vocals. The singer barely opens her mouth as she bends forward over the microphone behind a blanket of hair or, eyes closed, looks skyward. I heard sections of some numbers, while others arrived as wordless music.
It’s the kind of night that’s so cold,/ spit freezes ‘fore it hits the ground…I want to find a pair of eyes tonight to fall into/and maybe I’ll strike a deal/My body for my soul/Cause cheap is what I want to feel…Great lines, though I have no idea what the rest of the song said. Stringwork rides above Peter Timmons excellent drums. Guitars are reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane. Talented guest Jeff Bird adds haunting layers on harmonica and mandolin throughout.
The only words in “Missing Children” I can make out are: We only see them briefly/Then it’s fear and degradation…Short, repetitive phrases with limited octave changes make this a chant. Outlaw guitars bring back Hendrix. I had a dream I was a king/A king of empty things…seems to be a sad, possibly metaphoric, legend. Bending wah-wah notes erupt like a musical saw.
Admittedly unwilling to move much (or give anything more of herself than absolutely required), the vocalist rarely looks at the audience, frequently strolling to Appel room windows, tea in hand, with her back turned. A single anecdote about consequences of writing in front of her young son provides the only moment of actual sharing.
Sometimes Margo Timmin’s stroll coincides with a wince-inducing wall of electric sound that seems contrary to otherwise low key attitude. It’s as if she checks out. “Supernatural” by Vic Chestnut and “a fairytale about blood, guts and bleeding” are unintelligible but for: I’m sick of the bleeding/the effort it takes to keep on breathing…
The concert is intermittently intriguing but thoroughly frustrating.
Photos Courtesy of American Songbook
Lincoln Center’s American Songbook presents
Margo Timmins, Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, ALAN Anton
Guest: Jeff Bird- Harmonica & Mandolin
The Appel Room Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
January 31, 2019