When a band's been making records for as long as the Cowboy Junkies (26 years by the time of Demons' release), it's easy to get stuck in a rut if you don't make a concerted effort to keep things fresh. That's probably at least part of the reason the stalwart Canadian folk-rockers conceived their Nomad Series, whose first volume came out just eight months before the second, Demons. The idea was to release four albums within 18 months, each of which would represent a thinking-outside-the-box approach to music making for the band. "Renmin Park" was inspired by guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins' stay in China, and includes covers of songs by Chinese artists, as well as original Chinese-inspired work. Demons brings things closer to home, and is basically a tribute album to singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who died in late 2009. The Cowboy Junkies cover tunes from all across Chesnutt's career, from early nuggets like "West of Rome" to "Flirted with You All My Life," which hails from the last release of the songsmith's lifetime. Demons presents an alternate universe in which Michael Timmons' songs have mysteriously become considerably more caustic and cutting, or one in which Chesnutt abjured his own creaky-voiced renditions of his material in favor of making the honey-voiced Margo Timmins his mouthpiece. Whichever way you look at it, it's a provocative proposition, and certainly one that requires bringing a fresh pair of ears to the veteran band's output here. At times, the extra grit quotient in Chesnutt's songs seems in turn to inspire a tougher approach on the part of the Junkies, but more often, the late songwriter's quirky, agreeably crooked structures are given a fulsome, flowing quality that would probably never even have occurred to Chesnutt as a possibility.
AllMusic Review by James Allen