Renmin Park

Review Type:

Renmin Park is Cowboy Junkies first album in their 4 part Nomad Series, recorded to mark 25 years together as a band. This is a very good album and I like it a lot... but it doesn't sit comfortably with me in quite the same way as every other Cowboy Junkies album I own (i.e. most of them). I guess that this might be because it is "the experimental one" in the series and I see Cowboy Junkies as a guitar-based band. This album has many Chinese influences, based on songwriter Michael Timmins' extended stay in China. There are are also more pianos, loops and, well, Chinese instruments than other albums, along with some Chinese vocals and street crowd recordings. Some of the songs are written or co-written by Chinese artists that Timmins met or heard during his travels. It is fair to say that this is a departure for the Junkies.

Musically, many of the tracks, such as Stranger Here and Little Dark Heart, would not be out of place on other Cowboy Junkies albums. Others, such as A Walk In The Park are (intentionally) entirely foreign. I guess Timmins is intentionally trying to juxtapose very different ideas from 2 very different cultures. I wonder if it is a little more jarring than intended for those without the required context or if the differences are meant to be instructive. I think I can see the point of the album but it doesn't quite work for me. Perhaps a few more listens are required...

There are 2 Chinese cover songs on the album: I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side and My Fall. Strangely these are 2 of the most "comfortable" songs on the album. I guess I like my influences combined within songs rather than displayed in contrast in adjacent songs. I think that Timmins' tweaked versions of the English translations and the resulting Junkies treatment of these songs make them fantastic. Cowboy Junkies have always been an outstanding covers band and these tracks are no exception.

Michael Timmins' vocals feature much more on this album than any previous Junkies album, including on the tracks Sir Francis Bacon At The Net, Cicadas and Renmin Park (revisited). It is interesting to finally hear the songwriter sing (parts of) some of the songs and Timmins has a pretty good singer-songwriter voice... but I think it is fair to say that his sister Margo does very good interpretations of his songs... ;-)

The band are in fine form on this album with Pete Timmins and Alan Anton playing some fine grooves. Margo Timmins sings wonderfully - her voice just gets better as time goes by...

Renmin Park won't be the most listened to Cowboy Junkies album in my collection but I'll certainly revisit it every few months. I like it... but it doesn't thrill me.