Cowboy Junkies are on a roll at the moment. This is their second album in 12 months, with a further two promised this year. The first, `Renmin Park' released last year, was inspired by a visit to China; this second celebrates the songwriting of the late Vic Chesnutt who died on Christmas Day 2009. The third, `Sing In My Meadow' is still at the conceptual stage, while the fourth `The Wilderness' promises new songs, some of which have already been road-tested live. A book describing the inspiration for this `Nomad Series' of albums, in recognition of the band's 25th anniversary, is due to follow. A purple patch indeed.
And so to the current offering. For starters, it is a stronger and more accessible set of songs than those that featured on `Renmin Park'. Featuring Margo Timmins' customary mellow and haunting voice, it is not afraid to rock out on tracks like Strange Language and the stark Flirted With You All My Life, the Junkies being one of the few bands whose sound has become progressively louder as they have got older. Best of all is a version of the lovely Betty Lonely, Margo's spooked-out vocals underpinned by a deceptively benign instrumental that has an undercurrent of hidden menace that would not be out of place on a David Lynch film soundtrack. The late Vic Chesnutt was a friend to the band, and a collaboration had been mooted for many years. In the event, this tribute became `only fitting', and in the band's own words, a `labour of love'. An idiosyncratic songwriter, with a vocal style often reminiscent of Kurt Wagner, Chesnutt was something of an acquired taste, but the Junkies pay homage with dignity to a broad catalogue of material crying out to be shared with a wider audience. `Demons' is both a fitting tribute and showcase for Chesnutt's work, but also stands on its own merits as one of the Cowboy Junkies' strongest sets of recent material.