While preparing to write this review, I did what writers do best: procrastinate. During a brief social media break, I read a headline about a woman in New Jersey who died because the power to her house had been cut, knocking out her oxygen machine. Like a movie soundtrack, Margo Timmins’ voice abruptly called out, “Sing me a song about life in America!” Cowboy Junkies have returned with a vengeance in their new album All That Reckoning.
Since their breakout 1987 recording The Trinity Session and its lead-off single “Sweet Jane,” a sing-songy ditty that evokes Lou Reed and seethes with tension, Cowboy Junkies have become known as a band that packs a big punch with a small sound. The Toronto-based band’s unique vision creates a spare interpretation of Americana that cuts to your emotional core.
On All That Reckoning, the band has produced a powerful album that explores the fragile state of the world and how we can be better on a personal level, social level, and political level. Cowboy Junkies’ atmospheric music felt out of its time in the ’80s, but as songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins notes, what was visionary then has found its place now. “There’s a line in ‘When We Arrive’: ‘Welcome…to the Age of Dissolution’ which has been in my notebook for years. Every time I sit down to write an album I have stared at it and wondered why I wrote it and what it means. Finally, the times have caught up with the line and the Age of Dissolution is upon us. A time where so many personal, social and institutional constructs are crumbling and being devoured by forces that we have wittingly and unwittingly unleashed upon the land.”
With songs like “Missing Children,” we may wish that Cowboy Junkies’ second sight was less accurate — the album landed in my inbox months before our government’s nefarious immigration “policy” was finally brought to light. The song is imbued with a creeping horror — not of the government, but of the intertwining snares of public policy and social taboos we’ve wrought to create a world that does little to benefit us.
Of course, there are songs that strike deep on a personal level. “Shining Teeth” is a brooding ballad with a sense of lightness. To me, it’s a meditation on the lingering after effects of trauma. The narrator asks her friend or lover to unburden themselves of their own dark past. She describes the ways she attempts to bring herself “reprieve,” but in the chorus she seems to disassociate from her own memories, describing herself as if she was discussing another person, all while trying to help the listener come to terms with their own past.
Overall, this is an album about violence. The violence we suffer, the violence we dole out, the violence we cause by pretending it’s not happening at all. In this new collection of songs, Cowboy Junkies ruthlessly and methodically take a tally of all that we owe. I’ll listen to — and procrastinate on writing about — quite a few more albums this year, but All That Reckoning will be difficult to shake.
Learn more about Cowboy Junkies here. All That Reckoning will be released on July 13th via Latent Recordings.
1. “All That Reckoning Pt 1”
2. “When We Arrive”
3. “The Things We Do to Each Other”
4. “Wooden Stairs”
5. “Sing Me a Song”
6. “Mountain Stream”
7. “Missing Children”
8. “Shining Teeth”
9. “Nose Before Ear”
10. “All That Reckoning Pt 2”
11. “The Possessed”