Sing In My Meadow

Review Type:

When Sing In My Meadow, the third installment in Cowboy Junkies' 4 part Nomad Series, was released I downloaded it (from the Cowboy Junkies clubhouse - surprise, surprise: I bought a subscription), got busy with other things and promptly forgot about it for a week. I had heard various rough mixes on the Junkies blog and had been wondering how it would fit together as an album. A week later I realised I hadn't listened to it yet so I copied it to my phone and began walking to catch my bus to work, listening to Sing In My Meadow. By the time I got to work I was very excited, encouraging people to put on my headphones and listen. I managed to sell a few copies... :-)

The opening track Continental Drift begins as an instrumental: a drum, bass and dirty guitar groove with Jeff Bird's reverb-laden harmonica coming in over the top. It is a full 2 minutes before Margo Timmins makes her entrance with vocals drenched in delay, singing some typically dark and adult Michael Timmins lyrics. Welcome to Cowboy Junkies acid blues album, which brilliantly captures that thing they do so well live.

It's Heavy Down Here fades in with a slow rolling groove. Margo and Mike Timmins do weird call-and-response vocals - sometimes Mike is ahead, sometime Margo is - they seem randomly woven together. Jeff Bird's electric mandolin, with fuzz and wah, complements the madness in the vocals nicely. Everything is once again dripping with delay and reverb. The sound is huge and live-sounding.

These songs set the scene for the album: great grooves, huge performances, delay and reverb. Regular guest Jeff Bird owns the left channel, alternating between electric mandolin and harmonica. It is a strong mark of maturity when an established band can give so much space in their performances to a guest. Most of the tracks were recorded live in the studio, with some or all of the vocals being redone - Margo had a challenging time with new, unusual material and the big performances from the rest of the band bled into the vocal track. Margo often gets out of the way during a live gig when the band goes nuts and jams - though singing over this stuff isn't her bread and butter, her performances here are commanding.

The nice thing is that the band, and Mike Timmins as producer and mix engineer, have really managed to capture that wild acid blues thing that Cowboy Junkies do so brilliantly live. I just don't get how this band is pigeon-holed as alt-country - they really are a rock jam band when they play live. I also don't understand why Mike Timmins isn't more widely recognised for his songwriting. As a lyricist he's an artist, mixing darkness and light, poetry and pop, smoke and mirrors, with a variety of melody that gives Margo space to deliver them either delicately or slightly-understated but in-your-face. Perhaps they're a bit too adult for mainstream radio? Perhaps a bit too classy...

I love this album. By modern standards it is fairly short, coming in at just over 40 minutes. However, given the intensity, adding a couple more tracks might result in too much of a good thing... and there's certainly no filler. Just 8 great tracks, featuring great grooves, masterful performances and huge production. I think that I've listened to this album more than any other over the past 8 months or so... and I can't see that trend changing...