June 04, 2001 12:00 PM

Cowboy Junkies

(Latent Recordings/Zoë/Rounder)

If ghosts could sing, they’d probably sound like Margo Timmins, who could make “You Are My Sunshine” sound like a dirge. But together with bassist Alan Anton and her brothers Michael (on guitar) and Peter (drums), she is taking a few steps away from the haunted prairie sound on her prolific band’s 11th album since their 1986 debut.

Though the country-rockers revisit the themes that make them the perfect mood-setters for a serial-killer movie—murder in “I Did It All for You,” cheating in “Bread and “Wine,” depression in “Dark Hole Again”—they move slightly up-tempo on the album’s brightest (a relative term) tunes, the 10,000 Maniacs-sounding “Small Swift Birds” and “Close My Eyes.”

But the Junkies are not likely to be invited on Live with Regis and Kelly anytime soon. Michael’s languorous, lingering guitar still echoes ever so slowly and sadly throughout the aching acid rocker “Dragging Hooks (River Song Trilogy: Part III),” a reflection on lost years and lost love, and takes a Jimi Hendrix turn in “Upon Still Waters.” “1000 Year Prayer” apologizes to God for ruining the world but adds, “You’ve got Jimi Hendrix so let’s call it an even split.”

Bottom Line: Back in the sad saddle again

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