Pale Sun, Crescent Moon

Cowboy Junkies

RCA Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Just about anyone can make a case against the 30th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone, "The Women in Rock." The editors stated that some key figures in rock were not featured because of past reviews that the magazine gave the artists. Patti Smith had a more political reason: making a big deal out of women genderizes the genre instead of focusing on the work of the artist.

I'll forgo bitching about the writers not including Tori Amos's masterpiece Little Earthquakes among the most important albums by these women artists and focus on a glaring omission for this review:the Cowboy Junkies. True, three-fourths of the band are males, but the staple of the band is Margo Timmins' delicate, often haunted voice.

After making a huge breakthrough with The Trinity Sessions, the Cowboy Junkies released two other albums. The Caution Horses and Black Eyed Man further showcased the Cowboy Junkies way mellow style. Often acoustic and a tempo best suited for shaking a hangover on a Sunday morning, those two albums were strictly "fans only" type of albums. Sadly, those albums were more mood music than works that could stand on their own.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A change in formula was needed for the band. And that's what came out of the 1993 release, Pale Sun, Crecent Moon. Starting off on a dissonant note, "Crecent Moon" gave a slight agitation to their previous efforts. The Junkies had some guest musicians play harmonica, mandolin and piano in a couple of the songs, giving them more texture than most of the songs on Black Eyed Man. That's not to say they didn't use these instruments before, they just utilized them more on Pale Sun, Crecent Moon.

The chemistry between sister Margo and brothers Michael and Peter Timmins sounds as fluid as it did on The Trinity Sessions, their realized masterpiece. The poppy, chipper "Anniversary Song" actually sounds like the band members had a couple of cappaccinos while they were recording.

For sheer storytelling, the Cowboy Junkies are one of the most visually lyrical bands going. The visuals go from picturesque calmness, "Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful / as that of the rain-soaked purple / of the white birch in spring?" in "Anniversary Song" to the untsettled imagery of "Floorboard Blues." In that song, Margo warns, "Check under his floorboards, Mama / I don't like his suggestive tone / The way his words drip from his mouth / as he asks 'can I take you home?'" Ouch.

The Cowboy Junkies released their double live album, 200 More Miles two years after Pale Sun, Crecent Moon. And, after my column on double albums, I have to admit...that one is a definitive keeper with maybe one filler song. While new fans may want to get a good sample from that album, Pale Sun, Crecent Moon stands as a great album on its own standards. It's a cohesive recording that gave the Cowboy Junkies a lot more room to operate, music wise.

Margo Timmins may never have the mass audience that Fiona Apple and Jewel possess, but with ten years of recorded material under their belts, the Cowboy Junkies show no sign of slowing down. And while their fastest songs may put them up at the same tempo as say...Portishead and Mazzy Star, quickness is a style that just doesn't fit the Cowboy Junkies. A pot of coffee, a Sunday paper and a couple of hours with the Cowboy Junkies still is a surefire hangover cure.

Rating: B+

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© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.