Alternative country/folk veterans Cowboy Junkies are well-versed in being low-key with high hopes. The tragically ignorant may only be marginally familiar with The Trinity Sessions in ’88 or with a romantic cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” (later a centerpiece on the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers). Such an export from the Great White North almost makes us forgive Canada for Nickelback. Almost.
In mid-2010, Cowboy Junkies embarked on a bold journey to wrap 18 months and four interlinked albums around the memory of an old friend and the paintings of Enrique Martinez Celaya. Inspiration, raw ambition, exploration, and whimsy. This is what The Nomad Series is made of.
While Vol. 1 (Renmin Park) is a wealthy, weighted effort whose muse lay in trekking China and Vol. 2 (Demons) focuses on unfinished material by the late Vic Chesnutt, the third volume, Sing in My Meadow, features both the series’ shortest track list and its darkest subject matter to date. Between the Timmins siblings and the chilling bass of Alan Anton, the Cowboy Junkies get promisingly loud and whiskey prone, kicking off at “Continental Drift” with the running theme of Margo’s static vocals and some shrill doomsday harmonica.
One wicked lullaby (“Late Night Radio”) stumbles gracefully into the next (“Sing in My Meadow”), offering ruminations and resolve during this cold, new winter; chunky blues and borderline marching hymns (“3rd Crusade”) stir cautionary tales of being blindly led into myth. Sing in My Meadow clocks in shorter than its predecessors, pushing the idea that deeper desires are to be taken in moderation, a buffer to save us from spiraling out. The final song, “I Move On”, is quite appropriately titled and opens like “On a Plain” before plateauing on the kind of chaos that invokes family-friendly images of explosions as analogs for orgasms.
Vol. 3 isn’t as intimate as previous installments, instead relying on a metaphorical outward exertion of sweat, blood, and terror; the alt-rock blues numbers are on a long leash with a short time to bask. Each of the soon-to-be four releases could be dubbed a facet of one’s own psyche, with Sing in My Meadow exemplifying a most formidable “id.” It’s really that frighteningly delightful, an exchange of pain for pleasure, and the gorgeous Nomad paint series is to thank for sparking it all.
Essential Tracks: “Continental Drift”, “Late Night Radio”, and “3rd Crusade”