January 10, 1994 12:00 PM

Cowboy Junkies

After a brief lift of spirits on 1992’s countrified Black-Eyed Man, Cowboy Junkies plunge back into the depths once again. The Canadian group’s fifth album shines on a desolate landscape, illuminating everyday people stumbling through life and love. Brimming with references to winter, Pale Sun suggests that both bliss and fear ride on love’s coattails.

Some five years after the foursome’s first round of applause for their slow-motion reading of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” guitarist Michael Timmins has developed into a fine—though sometimes shamelessly erudite—songwriter himself, and sister Margo’s vocal range now includes more than a listless whisper. Clenched guitar riffs scrape against her haunting soprano on “The Post,” while she could be singing, the spare “Floorboard Blues” right into your ear. These songs are dour, for sure, but when Margo asks, “Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful as a face in a crowd of people that lights up just for you?” on a nearly peppy “Anniversary Song,” it’s hard not to smile. (RCA)

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