I know that we're only a few days into this new year, but Demons, the new record from Cowboy Junkies is already percolating through my speakers as a release that will be one of my favorites for the year and I don't think that I'll be alone on this one. The Junkies have rarely dropped a disappointing release and their current Nomad series that will stretch four albums deep finds the band in the midst of their most creatively inspired period to date, in my opinion. Demons is the second release in the series (available on January 18th), following last year's excellent Renmin Park and this time, the Junkies are tackling the music of Vic Chesnutt.
Guitarist Michael Timmins wrote the following in regards to the new release:
Our brief journey with Vic Chesnutt began in the mid-90’s when we stumbled upon his album, West Of Rome. We had just begun work on the songs that would become Lay It Down and decided to throw the title track of Vic’s album into the mix. We worked on the song for weeks but were never able to match its wistfulness, its forlornness or its honesty. We were never able to replicate the way the song just simply and effortlessly existed as recorded by Vic.
Several months later, when our album was released, we invited Vic to join us on a leg of our North American tour. Throughout that tour, we watched Vic every night as he stymied, infuriated, intentionally pissed-off and then subtly disarmed and won over audiences across the US and Canada. There was no secret to his game - just him, his guitar, and his uncanny voice, which could be grating and beautiful in the same breath, and the flat out honesty of his songs.
"Honesty" is the key to the rendering of Chesnutt's songs as found on the Demons album. The Cowboy Junkies have always had a way of making cover songs sync seamlessly with their own recorded works and it's not only the performance, but also the recordings themselves. Their material traditionally has an adequately produced feel and yet it hasn't been polished beyond recognition. Listening to any song from the Cowboy Junkies, you really do get the feeling that you might be getting a secret listen to their demo recordings (and in some cases, I'm sure we are listening to the original demos). I bought The Trinity Session quite a few years ago based on reputation alone without hearing a note. When I got around to listening to it, I was stunned at the way the recordings breathed their way through my stereo, especially knowing the primitive nature of the sessions. It was one of those early albums in my collection that sounded way better than you would expect it to.
The sound of Demons really takes me back to that first listening experience with The Trinity Session and as I was listening to it in the car, I thought about how great the album would sound on vinyl. If only. Guess what? Vinyl is indeed one of the many purchase options available for Demons (one of which includes a bonus 7 track digital EP) and as I look at the many different updates regarding the album, I edge closer and closer to purchasing the Clubhouse package. It's a no-brainer for every Junkies fan.
Chesnutt may have chosen his own path out of this particular world, but Demons is proof positive for the uninitiated that he left behind quite a catalog of work and it's a real pleasure to hear Margo Timmins' vocals wrapped around these songs.
Here's a sample (posted with permission) of "Wrong Piano," the opening track on Demons.