New McCartney Bio Chronicles Decade Post Beatles (Review)

Man on the Run tells of McCartney the human being as much as McCartney the superstar musician in the '70s, and readers will appreciate its insights.

An Interview with Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains

For over half a century the Chieftains have served as global ambassadors of traditional Irish music, and Paddy Moloney has been there from the very start.

Interview: John Illsley, Formerly of Dire Straits, Celebrates Survival with New Solo Album

While Mark Knopfler has enjoyed more critical and popular success since the band’s demise, Illsley has nonetheless produced a string of respectable solo works as well, including his latest LP, Testing the Water.

DVD Review: Elton John - The Million Dollar Piano

“It has to be a little over the top,” Elton says. “It’s Vegas.”

Boz Scaggs: The Instinct of a Musical Survivor

Call it intuition or a sixth sense or just faith in his own perception: Boz Scaggs knows when he’s onto something good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cowboy Junkies Explore Demons of Vic Chesnutt

Cowboy Junkies
The original plan was for the Cowboy Junkies to make a record with their longtime friend, folk artist Vic Chesnutt. Tragedy intervened, however, when Chesnutt, 45, died by his own hand on Christmas Day 2009. And so what had been conceived as a collaboration ultimately took shape as a tribute, with the Junkies covering an album's worth of Chesnutt's songs for their latest LP, Demons.

The second installment of the band's four-part "Nomad Series," following last year's ambitious Renmin Park, Demons is both a masterful exposition of a gifted storyteller and, at its essence, a riveting Cowboy Junkies album.

While no strangers to taking considerable liberties with the works of others — think “Dead Flowers” (Rolling Stones) or “Sweet Jane” (Velvet Underground) — here the Junkies resist straying too far from Chesnutt's original arrangements. Instead they embellish upon their sound, adding a surge of guitar or an organ refrain  as texture to their often-acoustic foundation like stuccoing the brick walls of a house. As such, moments of rustic, folk-influenced rock ("Strange Language," "Wrong Piano") complement ones touched by more of a somber, gospel grace ("We Hovered With Short Wings," "See You Around"), eliciting altogether unique contexts and emotional dimensions. Lead singer Margo Timmins is intoxicating, her vocals on noirish, sweeping ballads like "Betty Lonely" and "Square Room," in particular, assuming a dark and otherworldly allure. The final cut begins with a live excerpt of Chesnutt himself, the artist engaging his audience with a bit of off-the-cuff humor before the track segues into the Junkies playing "When The Bottom Fell Out" like a requiem. The juxtaposition is jolting, at turns recalling the source but also the poignancy behind these collected works.

“We felt that we owed him something,” Junkies bassist Alan Anton said last year of Chesnutt and the band's wish to make a record of his songs. With Demons, they've done their old friend proud.

First published as Music Review: Cowboy Junkies - Demons on Blogcritics.