It's been over 15 years since the Cowboy Junkies dropped their sparse masterpiece The Trinity Session. Recorded with very little gear in the span of one evening, it introduced the group's signature "sepia-drone" delivery to the world, a style that's never really undergone any surgery. Early 21st Century Blues attempts to build a bridge between 1988 and 2005 with a new collection of standards, covers, and originals that employ that same minimalist approach and scant recording time -- five days this time around. Built around the themes of "war, violence, fear, greed, ignorance, and loss," the familial quartet, along with a handful of friends, presents the works of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, and U2 as filtered through the half-time heartbeat that is the Cowboy Junkies' trademark. Anyone even remotely familiar with the group can look at a song like "One," "Isn't It a Pity," or "Two Soldiers" on paper and hear the version come to life in his or her head. All of the intimacy, heavy guitar reverb, smoky vocals, and snares kissed by brushes that fans have come to expect are here, rolling in like a harmless summer rain dressed in the dark clouds of a storm. The only exception, an awkward hip-hop version of Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier," featuring a rap by Kevin Bond (aka Rebel), is so out of place that it's almost refreshing, rounding out a collection of reliable late-night jams that will appeal to the choir, but not the whole church.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger