For the culmination of their four-volume Nomad series, the Cowboy Junkies provide a satisfying set that is aptly reflective of the 18-month journey, and their 25-year career.
The series represents a wellspring of varied material—a collection that provides a lasting primer for the band’s sound and range. Taken together, the four discs display the often-overlooked diversity of the group.
Each release covered a different facet of the band’s personality. You’ve got the experimental one (Vol. 1, Renmin Park), the covers album that consisted entirely of songs by Vic Chesnutt (Vol.2, Demons) and the fuzzy, raucous one (Vol. 3, Sing In My Meadow).
The Wilderness is the quiet, atmospheric one, the anguished introspection of winter to Meadow’s joyous ramble of spring. Not death exactly, but a definitive ending. Plans are underway for the four discs to soon be released as a box set, with a bonus disc and companion book published by Enrique Martinez Celaya, whose paintings inspired the series and served as the cover art for each release.
The Wilderness also merges those other facets explored in the previous installments. But this is the Cowboy Junkies in their comfort zone, doing what they do best. That’s taking Michael Timmins’ carefully crafted songs and breathing life into their nooks and crannies with lush instrumentation and haunting, evocative vocals by his sister Margo.
The album starts with a sonic wash of strings and reverb—an ethereal incantation that transplants you into a different world. Ten songs later, you’re plucked right back out with a jaunty little number that tells you exactly who your tour guide has been. In the middle, there’s shrewd scrutiny on nearly every track.
Whether it’s skewering religious doctrine (“Idle Tales”), delving into a doomed relationship (“Damaged From The Start”) or pondering a suicide (“Unanswered Letter”) Timmins’ songs on The Wilderness are biting. That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. There is beauty in the grace of stillness in “Angels In The Wilderness.” There is a swooping mischief in “The Confession of Georgie E.” And there’s a hell of a groove on the upbeat, sly album-closer, “Fuck I Hate The Cold.”
The Cowboy Junkies may never step out of the shadow of their seminal Trinity Sessions” recording, but there’s no reason the ambitious opus of the Nomad series couldn’t otherwise serve as their masterwork. It’s a sweeping epic that touches on the full range of their prowess. The series is all that they are—accomplished, graceful, thoughtful and poignant. And The Wilderness is its fitting conclusion.