It's remarkable in itself that in 2018, the Cowboy Junkies still have the same lineup that recorded their debut album, Whites Off Earth Now!!, in 1986. But it's even more surprising that more than three decades into their career, the band's essential formula remains very much the same, and what's more, that it still works. Released in 2018, All That Reckoning is less spare and severe than the group's most celebrated early material, with the occasional report of a jagged synthesizer or electric guitar, but even though the arrangements are more fleshed-out and the production more ambitious, the Cowboy Junkies continue to lay out languid, contemplative melodies favoring the low end of the register, with the rich but spectral vocals of Margo Timmins drizzled over the top like honey. Michael Timmins, the group's guitarist and principal songwriter, continues to favor minor-key tunes married to lyrics that deal with the less fortunate side of love ("Wooden Stairs" and the title track, which appears in two versions), the chaos of the larger world ("When We Arrive," "Sing Me a Song," "Missing Children"), and a variety of other products of a dark night of the soul ("Shining Teeth," "The Things We Do to Each Other," "The Possessed"). Michael's music remains both literate and evocative, even at its most abstract, and while he's certainly developed a trademark style (which he seems to point to in "Nose Before Ear": "I'm going to start this song in a dark low whisper…"), nothing here seems rote, and the music sounds as darkly hypnotic as one could wish for. Michael's interplay with singer Margo, bassist Alan Anton, and drummer Peter Timmins is powerful yet graceful, all the more effective for their years of shared experience, and if the Cowboy Junkies ultimately offer up something rather simple, it's more elegant than facile, which is part of why this band's work continues to communicate. All That Reckoning is a smart, compelling set of songs from a group that hasn't run out of things to say or the ability to say them with eloquence.
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