When R.E.M. called it quits, the band talked about walking away having maintained their artistic integrity throughout a 30-year career. As Cowboy Junkies pass the quarter century mark, the Toronto band must rest well at night. The band’s consistent work flies under the radar more times than not and the band sounds content with keeping it that way. With volume three of the band’s ambitious four-album Nomad Series, Cowboy Junkies bring their touring unit into the studio and capture the road-worn grittiness of their live show on record.
On the previous two volumes, the band delivered a challenging collection of songs inspired by a visit to China (Renmin Park) and a tribute to singer songwriter Vic Chesnutt (Demons). Intelligent songwriting and thoughtful covers have always been essential components of the Cowboy Junkies methodology. With Sing In My Meadow, the band’s often blistering live shows becomes the third piece of a larger picture being offered with the Nomad Series. Drenched in overdrive, the eight songs eradicate the quiet spaces the band has often explored on record. The album opens with a pounding drum pattern that briefly mistakes Cowboy Junkies for Led Zeppelin. Two minutes of crying acid blues rain through the speakers before singer Margo Timmins even draws her first breath.
Having played with Cowboy Junkies on their breakthrough The Trinity Session, Jeff Bird has always been the unofficial fifth member of the band when the tour bus hits the road. Often absent from the studio recordings, Bird leaves an indelible mark on Sing In My Meadow. On stage, his electric mandolin handles most of the lead work allowing guitarist Michael Timmins to create different tones beneath the cacophony. On ‘3rd Crusade’, the two create beautiful discord while bassist Alan Anton lays down a funky pattern that glues it all together. One of the band’s live staples in recent years is ‘Hunted’ from 1994’s Pale Sun Crescent Moon. Revisiting the song here, the original sounds frail and timid in comparison. Margo belts out the lyrics with the dry bitterness of someone who has witnessed first-hand the arrows that fly between men and women. As the band shakes the rafters, Bird delivers a mandolin solo that redefines the possibilities of the instrument.
Lyrically, the themes reflect the band’s maturity, expressing dissatisfaction with the promise of religion and longing for the simplicity of the past before Sirius/XM Radio beamed into every car and Pandora shuffled your smart phone. ‘Late Night Radio’ spits fire with the ferocity of Neil Young at his most electric as the band reminisces over the pleasures of a fuzzy AM signal in the dark. ‘I Move On’ is a psychedelic bender fueled by the heaviness of 70’s rock and roll that pushes the boundaries of what Cowboy Junkies represent musically. Running a lean eight songs, Sing In My Meadow gets to the point quickly and induces the listener into buying a ticket and taking the strange trip. It’s not an easy entry point for new listeners of Cowboy Junkies but taken within the context of the unfolding Nomad Series, Sing In My Meadow offers an exciting glimpse into the band’s depth and power.