Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Margo Timmins sings, "The air in here smells like piss and beer," at the very top of the Cowboy Junkies song, " The Confession of Georgie E," from the long-working Canadian group's latest album, "The Wilderness." It's one of those lines, from a song, that permeates and gets all over your hands, all over everything. You hear her singing it in the background of the other songs on the record. You seem to be able to actually reach out and touch the piss and the beer, or touch the smell of them. It's more than just an expression. It's tempting to say that the sentiment, or that coloring of the scene is the main character for much of the album. It's so strong and striking.
We're in it, immediately, very familiar with where we are, fundamentally aware that we will be introduced to folks who are not all that happy, who might be listless and depressed for countless reasons, but they're coping the best that they can. Timmins continues constructing the look and the feel of the night, as she sings, "Slow descent into darkness/I deserve no less/His last words/Carried like an offering upon his dying breath/Sweet, sweet cycle of you and I/Sweet, sweet memories of you and me/And the way we used to be." There is little here by the shards of something that used to be better, that used to be brighter and less gloomy. These are just broken bones and ash. This is just something that you walk away from and never return to, for there are fewer people around now that will offer consolation should you need it.
The songs that the band - playing in its 27th year - performed in this set get into some dirty, dark places. The people in them sound like they might be hanging on for dear life, getting let up for air, only when they're nearly out, when their lungs are pleading and burning. They still seem like they're coping with it all fairly well, letting it go down the gullet like a good pour of warm wine. Timmins sings about "the reassurance that death gets the sons of bitches too," and it's this thought - amongst the stinking of beer and piss, that even someone who's been ruined a time or two can look to for the hopefulness that they need.