30 years on from The Trinity Sessions and 16 albums along the line the Cowboy Junkies continue to mesmerise with their simultaneously glacial and slow burning sounds with Margo Timmins’ voice and brother Michael’s warm guitar tones their signature. All That Reckoning, their first release in six years, follows what was for them a furious burst of activity when they released four albums in their Nomad series in 2011 -2012. Recorded when the band found themselves without a record deal the four albums showed the disparate faces of the band, each disc with its own personality with two of them based on particular themes. All That Reckoning however irons out these facets with the band adopting an at times sepulchral sound with solid bass and drums propelling swathes of guitar while Margo Timmins voice reaches out from the depths.
The album opens with the spare glowering of All That Reckoning (Part 1) with bass guitar guiding the vocals over a background of muted electronic effects, the song signalling that this is not going to be a sunshine sort of listen. A wash of percussion introduces When We Arrive with Timmins singing, “Welcome to the age of dissolution,” a nod perhaps from writer Michael regarding the new world age we are in currently as nations close their drawbridges. The the song is delivered at a similar pace to the opening song although with a narcotic lushness about it and much of the album is in a similar vein, walking pace songs with stolid bass and drums and Timmins’ ice queen voice although there is variety in the guitar settings along with occasional additional instrumentation.
They do crank up the volume and energy at times. Sing Me A Song is fuelled with fuzz guitar and incandescent solos as the rhythm section rock out and All That Reckoning (Part 2) stomps angrily all over its earlier counterpart. Meanwhile Nose Before Ear sounds like a tale plucked from the Child Ballads with the band sounding as if they have been listening to Calexico while Wooden Stairs sounds as if it’s describing a hidden story behind the bland facade of Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
The Things We Do to Each Other stands out with its acoustic guitar slightly setting it somewhat aside from the other numbers but it’s essentially another piece in the jigsaw here with the band railing against the populist attempts to segregate against anyone who is not one of us. Obviously written some time before the furore surrounding America’s recent immigration issues Missing Children is astoundingly prescient. A huge slab of a song with angry jabs of guitar and violin stabbing throughout Timmins sings sounding like Patti Smith at times as she sings of the indifference of folk to news items regarding the plight of child immigrants. It’s the centrepiece of an album which is indignant regarding the current state of affairs and perhaps the best album the Cowboy Junkies have recorded for some time.