Posts Tagged ‘The Nomad Series’

The Freedom of Music: Cowboys and Chestnuts

February 22nd, 2011
Comments Off on The Freedom of Music: Cowboys and Chestnuts


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Vic Chestnut was a singer-songwriter from Georgia. Paralyzed at 19 in a car accident, he died in 2009 from an overdose of muscle relaxants. Speaking of their new album, Demons, the Cowboy Junkies Margo Timmins said about Chestnut:

We‘ve always picked our opening act in that way. These are people that we admire and, in some cases, feel like the situation should be reversed…

Which leads to the question: The Cowboy Junkies have opening acts? Plural?

Well sure, every band of any note has had an opening act. My high school buddies once opened for Frank Soda and the Imps at Starrs in Brampton. But you get the feeling Margo Timmins isn’t talking about showing up at the 300 seat bar, sound checking Over Sexed and Underfed, testing the exploding TV headwear (God I miss the 80’s), and finding out which group of underage wannabees you’ll be sharing the stage with.

This is, it need be said, not to slag The Cowboy Junkies. I like their cover of Lou Reeds Sweet Jane enough, and Margo Timmins is certainly nice enough to look at. And therein lies the depth of my knowledge on them. It simply never occurred to me they were a very big band.

In Dave Bidini’s 1998 Book, On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock, he chronicles his band, The Rheostatics, at their most successful: as the opening act for The Tragically Hip on a cross Canada tour. If you lumped The Tragically Hip, The Rheostatics and The Cowboy Junkies together and started singing:

One of these things is not like the other,
Two of these things are kind of the same…

I would place The Cowboy Junkies as being like The Rheostatics, not The Tragically Hip. But there they are, touring the world with their own sound-gear, lights and opening acts.

The earlier statement that Vic Chestnut died of an “overdose of muscle relaxants,” is accurate as far as the technicalities of how he died went. Unmentioned is Chestnuts death was a suicide. Chestnuts songs often dealt with the subject of death, including his own, and contained an element dark humour.

Listed as The Nomad Series Volume 2, the Junkies new album is a collection of Vic Chestnut songs. Smoothing out the songs – Chestnut had an injured hand and played clunky guitar and had a staggered, hesitant vocal delivery – Chestnut’s material becomes classic Cowboy Junky material. His stories of down and out characters, his lonely personal songs in the hands of Margo Timmins and the Junkies is a flawless match. Timmins voice is at once strongly pretty and plaintiff, paired with Chestnuts lyrics the songs are given an air of solemnity.

“People that we admire,” is what Timmins said of their opening acts, including Chestnut. It didn’t need saying. The treatment the Cowboy Junkies gave to Vic Chestnut’s songs make it clear they aren’t just covering the songs, they are paying homage.

The Freedom of Music , , , , ,