Okay, it’s very late, I’m immersed in writing one of the last chapters in my current fiction project.

But all I’ve had to drink is tea and I’m thinking fairly clearly. So I think I’m clear-headed enough to say this with some confidence:

I’m listening to the new Cowboy Junkies album, At the End of Paths Taken, and… either I’m just really starved for some good music, or this is the best album they’ve released since The Trinity Sessions, and a candidate for my year-end top ten list.

Since The Trinity Sessions, the Junkies have failed to really capture my attention and imagination. I love Marot Timmins’ voice, and at times I love her brother’s guitar work. I fell in love with them, as so many music lovers did, when they conjured that palpable, spooky, holy hush in The Trinity Sessions. That album became a legend, and in my opinion it deserved all of the respect it got. I still listen to it regularly.

But then they took on new shapes and sounds and never found anything quite as strong at that smoky Trinity Sessions magic. They’ve had flashes of beauty here and there, and the track they contributed to (of all things) the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack still sends chills down my spine. But no, nothing that lived up to the expectations set by that breatkthrough record.

At the End of Paths Taken is an unexpectedly engaging work, with rich, resonant sounds and confident songwriting, played with such grace that it makes me think they’ve lived with these songs for a while. It’s a consistently interesting, surprisingly powerful program. Its one of those collection that has that… that thing. That touch of inspiration, that sense that God showed up and gave them a push.

These days, as I strive and strive to meet deadlines, I have very little time for review-writing. So I’ll just have to point you to people who are writing great, insightful reviews.

Here’s a PopMatters review that I find myself agreeing with, although I may end up favoring a rating of “8” rather than “7.” I need to spend some time with the lyrics (the last track’s rather heavy-handed and ends things on a rather dispiriting note), but the sound’s got me all wrapped up.

And here’s Thom Jurek’s review. Thom’s one of my favorite music critics, and I find myself agreeing with a lot of his words as well.

Give it a spin. I’m going to be playing it all weekend.

(Caution: There are some lyrics here that require me to say, “This album’s not for kids.”)