Cowboy Junkies. The Wilderness: The Nomad Series Volume 4.

Back in the summer of 2010 the Cowboy Junkies announced the release of four albums in what they called their Nomad series. On their website they said “For the first time in twenty years we are completely free of any recording contracts and obligations, we find ourselves writing and recording more than we have in years, our studio (The Clubhouse) feels more and more like home, the band now has twenty five years under the hood and is sounding so darn good…and then, added in to that mix, our friend Enrique Martinez Celaya, the brilliant and inspired Cuban-American painter, dropped these four spectacular paintings (a series of paintings called “Nomad”) into our laps, and it became clear that we needed to release four albums, with his paintings as our ground.”
Now almost two years down the line the final instalment is with us, The Wilderness. Having heard its predecessors (and reviewed two of them) it’s fair to say that the band have sounded revitalised across all of the releases whether it be on the impressionistic tales inspired by China on Rennin Park (Vol. 1), the moving tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt that was Demons (Vol. 2) or the furious bluesy wig outs on Sing in my Meadow (Vol. 3).
The Wilderness returns in a sense to what most folks’ perception of the band is, the laid back and intimate sound that catapulted them into the limelight on the Trinity Session album all those years ago. Undoubtedly the recording process has moved on but the glacial yet comforting sound that featured on Misguided Angel is very much present here. With the exception of the closing song, Fuck, I Hate The Cold which might have been best served on Sing In My Meadow the album is a sumptuous pillow of sound with Margo Timmins’ voice a comfort and a balm. Closer listening however reveals an album that explores hurt and loss, none more so than on the opening Unanswered Letter (for JB), a song written after the suicide of a close friend, but which also celebrates the inspirational benefits of solitude on We Are The selfish Ones. Michael Timmins wrote many of these songs holed up in a wintry retreat with the book Gilead (by Marilynne Robinson) to hand and the fragile soundscape of Angels In the Wilderness is inspired by the tale. A beautiful song, Angels In The Wilderness is a graceful and tender message for the next generation. It’s followed by a quartet of songs that are almost as good. Damaged From The Start is a haunting tale of “bruised and battered hearts.” Fairytale has some lilting mandolin from long time 5th band member Jeff Bird while Staring Man expands on a short poem by Elizabeth Bishop while retaining the mystery of who and what is the “Staring Man.” The Confession Of George E has a slow burning Neil Young feel to it with menacing guitar and organ. After this four song triumph the bare bones of I Let Him In is almost an anti climax despite its undoubted charm while the closer Fuck, I Hate The Cold as mentioned before spoils the mood of the album with its chunky guitar chords and slinky rhythm although Margo Timmins’ delivery of the title line is excellent in its repetition. I suppose it could be seen as a valediction to the winteriness of the preceding songs.
Overall a fine end to this brave venture from the band. Each of the albums is well worth getting and there is a proposed box set of all four plus an extra disc of songs gathered along the way in the offing and sounds mighty tempting.

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