The Cowboy Junkies are members of a particular category of bands for me: bands that I have always appreciated, enjoyed a number of songs that I’ve heard, and all in all have never had a problem with, but that I have never been particularly driven to listen to entire albums of their music. I was going to go on to say that I don’t own any of their albums, but I then suddenly had a sneaking suspicion and checked: sure enough, it turns out that I do number their 1988 breakout album, The Trinity Sessions (which contains their best-known song, the slow, creeping cover version of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”), among the albums I own digitally. Seems I’d forgotten that fact, and I’m fairly sure that it has only been listened to a very few times since obtaining it — certainly not recently. But it’s a really good album! I don’t know why I don’t think of them much — they certainly make for great late-night listening, at the very least. Maybe I do less late-night listening these days? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I really, really like “A Common Disaster,” from their 1996 album, Lay It Down — I certainly don’t have the familiarity with their catalog to confirm that it’s one of their most high-energy songs, but in my view of things, it certainly seems to be. It’s got a really cool, slinky guitar sound on the verse, a distinctive vocal melody, and a killer chorus: ringing, soaring, and haunting all at once (although I think “haunting” is simply in the Cowboy Junkies’ DNA). As an aside, it turns out that this was their only other song to hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching #75 (“Sweet Jane” reached #52 after being rereleased for the Natural Born Killers soundtrack but only charted on the Modern Rock chart in its original release).
Lay It Down is considered by a good number of their fans to be the Cowboy Junkies’ best album, even despite the classic status of The Trinity Sessions, and listening to it now while writing this, I can see why. (See what I mean? I’ve loved this song for a long time, but only now am I hearing the whole album — maybe that’s not unusual for a lot of people, but trust me, that’s not usually how I operate.) It’s got the intense, smoky voice of Margo Timmins — which has always been their dominant strength, of course — but additionally, all of the melodies grow quickly, going from unfamiliar on first listen (as you’d expect, naturally) to sounding like they’ve always been there for you by the third or fourth listen, yet continuing to reveal new angles each time. That’s usually a sign of quality music. Clearly, I’m going to have to start making more of an effort with their albums. It’s only taken me 20 years or so…sheesh.