Miles From Our Home

Cowboy Junkies

Geffen Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


In case some of you haven't realized, happy music is back in full, skatty swing. I've said this before, and this intro could have very well been lifted off another review I did earlier. And I do admit, yes, I'll bob my head to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But with groups like Cleopatra and singers like Brandy around, little room is left on the radio for music that fits a mood that is far less than bliss.

I don't want to start a zoot-suit riot! I just got a speeding ticket, my friends went fishing this weekend without inviting me and I've worked with so many assholes at work, my head is throbbing after 5 p.m. Fortunately for people like me, the Cowboy Junkies are still around. They've never made a happy album. It's not sad music like Morrissey where you pout, it's sulking music. You're in a funk and all you want to do is stew in it.

Miles From Our Home, the latest album from the Junkies and the second on their new label, Geffen, retains their dark, barren sound. In the liner notes, the band explains how they spent last year:living in a 125-year-old Mill House and taking contemplative walks. One relative and a good friend of theirs (Townes Van Zandt) died while this album was being recorded. The brother and sister combo of Margo and Michael Timmins had a lot of material to make an album that could make Richard Simmons contemplate suicide.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While many songs on Miles From Our Home focus on loss, there are a lot of sunny sides to the album. The title track and "New Dawn Coming" once again feature a new technique for the Junkies: an electric guitar riff that is solid. One more interesting thing about the title track, dost I hear a bit of Smashing Pumpkins in that song? It seems like bassist Peter Timmins got really hooked on the bass rift of "1979".

Lyrically, Miles From Our Home is incredible. I can't remember a more solidly written Cowboy Junkies album. "Good Friday" and "Those Final Feet" are great examples of this. Michael Timmins may have been writing this for his departed friends, but the line, "You said never to grow old / but you forgot to tell me how," cut through at any level if you have lost someone close to you. Margo Timmins's gorgous delivery propels this line like a tightly sprung harpoon.

Potholes do show up during this beautiful ride of a record, though. Just as I'm about to give my "best songwriter" of the year to Michael, a couple of songs lyrics come off as half-finished. In "Darkling Days", the main chorus is "The beautiful is not chosen/The chosen becomes beautiful"...yeah? Sorry, that line belongs on Natalie Merchant's new one. Not the Junkies. And as long as I'm venting on lyrical unevenness, what is the recent gutter-mouth pleasure that Margo Timmins delights in? One chorus in this album is, "Who gave that power to that fucker up there?" But I'm nitpicking again. The only reason these two examples stand out so much is that the rest of the album is so well written.

Miles From Our Home is a more electric album than Lay It Down, their last album. It is also a better album than that one. One criticism the Cowboy Junkies constantly endure is that they're repeating the same formula that they made their classic The Trinity Session album from. One listen to this album refutes that claim entirely. Still, the Junkies are not for everyone.

For someone who needs a relaxing, yet edgy album to sulk in on a Sunday morning, this album is perfect. The first two weeks of summer vacation have passed, now is the summer of discontent for broke students out there. And Miles From Our Home is the perfect soundtrack for those emotional low points this summer.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 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 Geffen Records, and is used for informational purposes only.