The State Theater was packed last Thursday night as Canadian band Cowboy Junkies announced it would play brand new songs off of its latest album The Nomad Series. The album, a collection of four volumes Renmin Park, Demons, Sing in My Meadow and Wilderness — was an eighteen-month-long project for the Cowboy Junkies. It’s good to know that they have kept new material coming since their start in 1985. An ambitious project like The Nomad Series is bound to please the band’s fans.
The band began with Sing in My Meadow, a lively, grungy song that might make you feel like you’re in one of those tough and grimy dive bars where they play pool all day and everyone is wearing sleeveless tees. It is the kind of song that makes you want to order another round of brooskies for your buds (remember, I’m a city girl and have only glimpsed “hard country rock” in movies where these images abound).
The Cowboy Junkies’ sound is mostly bluesy folk-rock, punctuated by sultry and sensual notes. Above all, it is nearly always sad. Midway through their first set, vocalist Margo Timmins joked about the band’s artistic process, “I wish I could tell you as we progressed through these albums that we got happier, but I cannot,” to which the audience chuckled. Prior to this statement, she sang “Sit Sadly By Your Side” from Renmin Park, which captured the melancholy of a doomed couple. The repetition of the line “I cannot sit sadly by your side” evokes the image of someone sitting sadly in the room where that talk is going on — the talk that at least one person in the relationship has been dreading since the turbulence began. You desperately want to leave the room because what is being said is not for your ears, but you can’t help but feel for the person who needs to get out of that relationship. You also feel sorry for the end of that relationship.
The saddest song, however, was probably “Angels in the Wilderness” from the Wilderness volume. It began in airy, peaceful vocals tinged with a sorrow that quieted the room. The soft acoustics accompanying it gave the song an ethereal, mystical tone that set the mood for its namesake wilderness setting. It’s a song of loss and doubt. The drawn out closing vocals tug at the heartstrings: “Are there angels in the wilderness? I don’t know.” This song was definitely my favorite of the night and will be downloaded.
With overlapping themes of lost love, relationship failures and death, The Nomad Series seems to just fall short of being uplifting. The soundtrack could well be playing in a poorly lit roadside bar where loners nurse their drinks and reflect upon their blues. The album does, however, have its riled up moments. The atmospheric changes were regularly cued by Timmins: “Mr. Lighting Man, I’m 51 years old. Could you cut the lights down,” she joked. This was not just a reminder of how long the Cowboy Junkies had been making music, but also that they could still be sexy. The opening lines of “A Bride’s Price” are sexy. In fact, everything about this song from Sing in My Meadow is sensual — the electric guitar interlude, the heavy symbolism, the haunting wails courtesy of Timmins and of course the regulating bass guitar. The whisperings of the starting lines, “She hooked me with her ‘fuck me’ eyes, they still haunt me to this day,” give you shivers and let you know where the song is going. This one will make you saunter over to that special someone.
After debuting some new songs, the Cowboy Junkies indulged its fans by playing some of its most famous hits like “Sweet Jane” and “Misguided Angel.” Naturally, the fans took kindly to these old favorites. As a new listener to the Cowboy Junkies, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was raised on hip hop and pop, with a little contemporary Brit rock mixed in, and yet I found that I could easily appreciate the Junkies’ style and masterful lyrical ability. The synthetic beats the band sometimes blends into its music make for a pleasant surprise in the folk rock genre. Cowboy Junkies has definitely convinced this city girl to add to her musical melange and maybe take a hike in the woods.