Cowboy Junkies; At the End of Paths Taken (Zoe) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

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Cowboy Junkies: Cutting Board Blues
Cowboy Junkies; At the End of Paths Taken (Zoe) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

When the Cowboy Junkies' breakthrough album The Trinity Sessions arrived in '87 music was getting noisy and Guns'N Roses stomped the planet. But the Junkies' famously cheap album -- recorded in a church for a couple of hundred dollars apparently -- captured the imagination, especially their version of Lou Reed's Sweet Jane.

The mood of the album was all of a piece: subdued, intimate and yearning.

People wanted more of the same -- a kind of alt.Americana -- and for a while the Junkies seemed prepared to give it: albums of thoughtful and considered melancholy best enjoyed in times of quietude.

But even back then they were always a more punchy outfit live and what few knew was that their pre-Trinity debut was a scouring, bluesy and dirty guitar-driven affair called provocatively Whites Off Earth Now!! (It's a cracker incidentally, seek it out).

So anyone coming to this sometimes fiery new album would do well to bear that debut in mind because songs like Cutting Board Blues here are aggressive and raw, and in other places there are swathes of elevating, psychedelic strings.

Of course there are also songs like the folksy and obliquely political Someday Soon, and some of those alt.Americana elements remain intact. But this is a much more ambitious affair than some of their previous albums.

My guess is that over the past decade or so the Cowboy Junkies lost their audience -- they have done about a dozen or so albums -- and so if all you heard was The Trinity Sessions you missed their growth, and a fascinating career in which they explored many avenues.

This album however steps out in bold new directions (while not betraying those various discoveries along the way), but in a ballad like Follower 2 you can still hear the rare beauty that singer Margo Timmins possesses.

So while the 20th anniversary edition of The Trinity Sessions revisited (with guests like Ryan Adams) is interesting enough, this rather more brittle album is actually where they are at right now, and is the one to hear.

This could be another breakthrough album for them, but it sounds more like a breakout.

There is a lot of rewarding texture and depth here.

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