At the End of Paths Taken
Twenty years ago, the Cowboy Junkies convened in an empty, cavernous
Toronto's Holy Trinity church to work on the Trinity Session, a stark,
haunted collection of whispered folk and dimly lit rock that sent a chill
through everybody that heard it. Deadened beats, Margo Timmins' ethereal
voice, lonely electric and acoustic guitar and bass that beat like a heart
made Trinity Session a seductive masterpiece that, to this day, still
demands your rapt attention, if only for the unsettling cover of the Velvet
Underground's "Sweet Jane."
And ever since then, the family Timmins, along with bassist Alan Anton, has
been trying, with varying degrees of success and failure, to recapture the
magic. Sadly, as their recording budgets have grown, the Cowboy Junkies'
music has steadily declined into an adult-contemporary blandness, Pale Sun,
Crescent Moon being the glaring exception.
At the End of PathsTaken offers glimpses of the old Cowboy Junkies,
especially on "My Little Basquiat," a noir-ish, black pool of sunken cello,
coke-bottle percussion and deep, swirling currents of piano that beats Nick
Cave at his own game, and the meaty, distortion-fried, Zeppelin-esque rocker
"Cutting Board Blues."
But edgy it's not, and it leans so heavily on
large-scale, sweeping string arrangements that whatever melody was supposed
to run through "Follower 2" gets lost forever.
Then again, the faceless,
acoustic strumming of "Spiral Down" ? wait for the strings, useless and
unnecessary, to come in ? and "Still Lost" indicate that the Junkies have
become addicted to a formulaic brand of songwriting that's neither unique or
At the End of Paths Taken isn't a total disaster. There's still a
bittersweet quality to the Junkies' pop sensibilities that's always
endearing, and the strings are sometimes tastefully arranged and lovely to
But at this point, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Junkies to
return to the church.