Last year, on the occasion of their 25th anniversary as a band, I called Cowboy Junkies a “national treasure”, marking their lengthy career path by constantly evolving and moving forward as a band. I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with another band or artist that I listened to in 1989 that I still care about and follow; other than a fading interest in what Morrissey is doing with his life, I can’t think of one.
One of the staples of both the Cowboy Junkies’ live shows and recordings has been the cover song. Mostly sprinkled here and there among their catalogue, the band have paid tribute to musical heroes and friends in equal measure, but for Demons, the second installment of the four-volume Nomad Series they started last year with Renmin Park, they’ve chosen to devote the entire record to covering the work the late Vic Chesnutt.
Chesnutt was a singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia who released 17 albums in his career before he passed away on Christmas Day, 2009 after an overdose of muscle relaxants. He was paralyzed after a car accident in 1983 that left him using a wheelchair for mobility and limited use of his hands. he has long been praised and revered by his fellow musicians but first gained commercial recognition when Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, a tribute album of artists (including The Smashing Pumpkins, Madonna, and R.E.M.), was released to benefit the Sweet Relief charity.
Michael Timmins calls Demons “a labour of love” that honours Chesnutt’s own approach to recording. “We let happy accidents happen and tried to invest his songs with the same spirit in which they were written,” all the while casting the songs in the Cowboy Junkies’ own distinct voice. It is a stirring and intense collection of songs, an unforced collaboration that sounds natural and destined to be. There are times, like on “West of Rome” where it feels as if Chesnutt’s spirit was there in the studio, nodding approvingly and adding a mysterious, silent accompaniment to his own song.
Demons is available from the Cowboy Junkies own Latent Recordings label on February 15. A bonus digital only EP of seven Vic Chesnutt songs that Cowboy Junkies recorded during the Demons session that are not available on the CD will be available from the band’s website that day as well.
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