Picks & Pans

March 16, 1992

Black-Eyed Man
Cowboy Junkies

Margo Timmins’s languid, hypnotic voice is still the best thing about this Canadian-based country-rock group. Second best is the band’s ability to come across both hip and heartfelt, a quality they raised to sublime levels on their celebrated second album, The Trinity Sessions (1987).

Black Eyed Man is the Junkies’ fourth release, followed by two years the somewhat pallid The Caution Horses. Like that album, Black Eyed Man relies almost exclusively on the songwriting efforts of Margo’s brother Michael, who also handles guitar and production duties. With brother Peter on drums and family friend Alan Anton on bass, the band snakes through 12 rough-hewn numbers, all perceptively sung by Timmins.

Joining her on the role-reversing ballad “If You Were the Woman, and I Was the Man” is folkie singer-songwriter John Prine, whose hoarse vocals provide an effective counterpoint to Timmins’s dreamy delivery. “If I was the woman and you were the man,” he signs, “would I laugh if you came to me/With your heart in your hand?” The band plays two effective numbers by country songwriter Townes Van Zandt: “Cowboy Junkies Lament,” full of quiet rue, and the harmony-rich “To Live Is To Fly.”

While there is much solid musicianship throughout, the album’s overall effect is somewhat lackluster, which may be due to the sameness of the material. Once known for their beautifully bent interpretations of songs by Lou Reed, John Lee Hooker and Hank Williams, to name a few, the Junkies have gone too far toward making somnolence their signature. They might be better served by shopping for tunes that let the band cut loose again in what was once its inimitably loopy way. By relying so heavily on Michael’s compositions – complex in their narratives but fairly monotonous melodically – the band may have written itself, this time, into a musical rut. (RCA) – Lisa Shea

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