Superb collection of cover versions from alt-country veterans.
The Cowboy Junkies initially came to most people’s attention via their cover version of ‘Sweet Jane’ released over 30 years ago. Their first album in 1986 was comprised almost entirely of covers and since then many of the band’s releases have included one or two renditions of other artists’ songs. It’s thus no great surprise to find the Cowboy Junkies taking the plunge and recording a whole album of cover versions. As Willie Nelson once said, “Good songs never die, if it was good a hundred years ago, it’s still good today”, not that any of the songs selected by the band for this record are quite that old.
The album opens with a relatively faithful interpretation of Bowie’s ‘Five Years’. It’s followed by ‘Ooh Las Vegas’. The Junkies take on Gram Parson’s pacey country classic and turn the song about the ‘crystal city’ into something more psychedelic, dreamy, dark and yet beautiful. Despite its layered guitars and multiple tracks of Margo Timmins’s harmonies, it still manages to distil her apparent distaste for the city and the culture it represents.
The Stones’ ‘No Expectations’ is close to the original in its arrangement with Aaron Goldstein adding some first-rate pedal steel guitar and dobro. Hailing from Canada it would be remiss of the band not to include anything by Neil Young. The band have decided to include two of Shakey’s tunes, with ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ and ‘Love In Mind’ sandwiched together in the middle of the album. Another more underrated Canadian, Gordon Lightfoot, is represented by ‘The Way I Feel’, the title track from his second album released in 1967. Lightfoot’s folk ballad is expanded to a more rocky number with electric guitars and solid drumming.
There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to Bob Dylan songs. However, rather than pick one of his feted compositions from the 1960s or 70s, the Junkies perform ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’, which appeared on Dylan’s most recent studio album, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’. The subtle instrumentation provides the lyrics with more space than the original, allowing their beauty to be more easily appreciated. It’s arguably better than Dylan’s version. Next up is Vic Chesnutt’s ‘Marathon’. The band were such big fans of Chestnutt that they recorded 18 of his songs after his death, which were released on their ‘Demons’ album. However, ‘Marathon’ wasn’t amongst these. It’s a brooding rendition. There‘s something ominous about it, ‘But all these recurring dreams, Will increase and then peter out and cease, Tears do evaporate, But oh so slowly, Like piss on a toilet seat’.
The album comes to a close with a fine version of The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds‘ which remodels the song, making it possibly even more enigmatic than Robert Smith and co.’s gloomscape. It showcases some excellent, expressive guitar from Michael Timmins and understated drums from his brother, Peter. There’s much to like about this album and, you never know, some of the versions here may even end up supplanting the originals in your affections.