Early 21st Century Blues
The Music Box's #3 album of 2005
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2005, Volume 12, #8
Written by John Metzger
Despite the initial success that surrounded the release of its sophomore effort The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkiesí 20-year longevity has earned the ensemble little more than a cult-like following. Then again, its albums largely have been hit-and-miss affairs, and its brand of mournful meditation is undoubtedly an acquired taste. The band always has been at its best when it has remained focused upon providing a cohesive narrative thread for its introspective musings, and this is precisely the reason why its latest effort Early 21st Century Blues is such an astounding achievement. Although 9 of its 11 tracks were penned by other artists, this is far from a novelty set that is meant merely to bide time until the Cowboy Junkies can collect its thoughts and write some new material. Instead, the outing is an emotionally turbulent and haunting examination of mankindís inclination towards war as well as the devastation that lies in its wake.
Since recasting Lou Reedís Sweet Jane on The Trinity Session, the Cowboy Junkies has developed a sterling reputation for the manner in which it has tackled material that is penned by other artists. Early 21st Century Blues offers further proof that its commonly lauded stature is well-deserved. Whether settling into the duskily hypnotic traditionalism of Two Soldiers, wallowing in the hopelessly harrowing melancholia of Bruce Springsteenís Youíre Missing, or permitting a glimmer of optimism to flicker behind its somber reading of U2ís One, the group takes ownership over each of the selections, and in the process, it paints an extraordinary canvas of color that forms a heartfelt observation about the current state of the world. Indeed, the bandís choice of songs to cover provides the perfect framework for unveiling a pair of original compositions ó the chilling but thought-provoking December Skies and the moody tension of the equally contemplative This World Dreams Of. The highlight, however, undeniably is the ensembleís bold reinterpretation of John Lennonís I Donít Want to Be a Soldier, which, in its new incarnation, glides upon a raging, funky groove and seamlessly envelops Rebelís socio-political diatribe. In essence, Early 21st Century Blues not only is the most inspired and impassioned effort that Cowboy Junkies has crafted, but it also is one of the most important albums of the year.
Early 21st Century Blues is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box