Open (Cooking Vinyl) Halfway through Open you're wondering if the Cowboy Junkies have finally overdosed on their own maudlin. For a while now the Toronto quartet have been easing away from their original sound of fresh, almost naive tunes, slowly morphing the peppery folk and country into deeper, darker riffs. From this album's outset lurk powerful, bleak songs of mid-life crises, adultery, murder and death dripping with dirty blues. Now well into their 40s, after 15-odd years on the road and nine studio albums into their career, the band appear to be peering into the abyss. Finally, though, they retreat from it. A sighing ocean, gentle piano and Margo Timmins' soaring pipes usher in the redemptive Thousand Year Prayer, before the band launch into the optimistic pop of I'm So Open. Still, main songwriter Michael Timmins can't quite shake his sideways glance at the great inevitable. On the melodic Small Swift Birds he praises their seemingly eternal beauty only to find 'there's a day when you look and can't find them anywhere, but that's just the way life goes'. (Found) Beneath The Gate celebrates new starts, while the finale, Close My Eyes, finally rejects the temptation of walking away 'like Judas from the table'. As a whole then, despite its contradictions, this is a convincing and beautiful concept album.