Cowboy Junkies

Waltz Across America

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With a roster of songs that highlights some of their best-loved work, Waltz Across America has the feel of an intimate evening spent in private concert with Cowboy Junkies, a feat made possible by a combination of seamless production design, carefully chosen music, and singer Margo Timmins' quiet, heartfelt rapport with her audience. The second release on the band's own Latent Recordings label, the album is a live compilation of 12 of the 60 songs played on the Junkies' end-of-the-millennium tour of the U.S. and Canada. Thanks to the band's ability to put a fresh spin on time-honored favorites, Waltz is one of those rare albums equally well-suited to both first-time listeners and loyal fans. All of the band's hallmark songs are here -- "Misguided Angel," "Sweet Jane," and "Blue Guitar," to name a few -- but none of them take their listener's familiarity for granted: hearing them on Waltz is a bit like re-reading an old bedtime story and finding that the ending has been subtly changed. Perhaps one of the album's most gratifying surprises comes from the completely rewritten "Hollow As a Bone": Originally performed as an angry, hard-driving rock anthem, it plays here as a plaintive love song laced with wistful poignancy. Similarly, the 11-minute version of "Blue Guitar," the Junkies' elegy to friend, inspiration, and fellow musician Townes Van Zandt, is a brooding work of haunting and unexpectedly taut beauty. All of the songs on Waltz illustrate the Junkies' continued evolution as a band, and as a whole the album's rich, often hypnotic sound flows with an ease and depth that will reassure longtime listeners even as it entrances new ones.

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