06 March 2006

Cowboy Junkies - Dead Flowers


Cowboy Junkies are, to my knowledge, the only band who consistently do cover versions that far exceed the originals.

Whilst they have a major songwriting talent in guitarist Michael Timmins, it's in the way they tackle the works of others that we get the clearest view of their power and worth.

They find a dark melancholic stillness in the heart of a song, and Margo's strong yet delicate voice curls like smoulder smoke through the core of the track and up beyond it.

Neil Young's Powderfinger, Springsteen's State Trooper, they even do Sweet Jane in a way that - coming from a very different angle - equals the Velvets' original.

It appeared they'd drawn the short straw on the Rubber Soul tribute album This Bird Has Flown, doing John Lennon's worst song, Run For Your Life. Disposable, unimaginative, misogynistic, disowned by its writer, we'd be none the poorer if it had never existed at all.

Then the Junkies work their magic and once again do a cover that teases out a sombre and compelling atmosphere. Their Run For Your Life is a brilliant seething sinister threat of a track.

The Rolling Stones' 1971 masterpiece Sticky Fingers has several classic riffy corkers, but also a couple of astonishing Cowboy Junkies-esque slow dark spacious tracks in Sister Morphine and Moonlight Mile.

The Junkies, though, went for Dead Flowers. The Stones do it upbeat with Jagger's voice delivering the lyric in a semi-comic twang. Cowboy Junkies see the lyric has an unrelenting broken, morbid, desolate sentiment perfectly suited to them. Slowing it down, giving it their classic arrangement of guitar, voice, bass, subtle drums, mandolin, accordion and slide guitar, they make it entirely their own.

Dead Flowers comes from an aborted first attempt at recording the album that would become 1990's The Caution Horses. The tracks from that session have recently had a full release as Sharon. It was only released on the cassette single of Sun Comes Up It's Tuesday Morning, and on two promo-only CDs.

I got it on one of the latter, a limited promo CD that came with initial copies of 1992's Black Eyed Man bought at HMV shops in the UK. It shares the disc with two album tracks and a cover of the traditional tune Captain Kidd (another Sharon session track, previously released on the single of Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning).

The band released a B-sides and out-takes album that didn't include Dead Flowers. A track that's better than most bands best efforts, just left lying around on a long forgotten promo. Twenty years and still making magnificent, ornate, sad and beautiful music. Talent to spare.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]


Anonymous said...

Nice one. And it is indeed better than the original (which is a fine Stones track).

Anonymous said...

wow, this is an incredible track! I love the cowboy junkies; thanks so much!