COWBOY JUNKIES

"One Soul Now"

Zoe/Rounder

Margo Timmins is not the most versatile singer, but she does one thing very well. On slow-to-midtempo songs, her deep, smoky alto can cap off a conversational phrase by holding out a note with enough vibrato and throaty yearning to cast a mesmerizing spell. She has done it on the Cowboy Junkies' eight previous studio albums, and she does it again on "One Soul Now." The only thing that really changes from album to album is the quality of the songs she is given to sing and the sound of the guitars behind her.

This year all the songs were written by her brother Michael, who is so intent on fostering the mood of spiritual unity implied by the title that he seems reluctant to disturb the proceedings with anything as crass as a melodic hook or specific visual image. As a result, even the first single, "The Stars of Our Stars," and the title track move in minimalist, repetitive intervals and offer such vague descriptions as "stillness settles, glides on by, one soul now" or "dream of my dreams; you come to me dancing."

Michael also plays the art-rock guitars, which are now less whispery than they were on 1988's breakthrough "Trinity Session," but not as jangly as they were on 1998's "Miles From Our Home." A third Timmins sibling, Peter, plays the drums on this first album that the Toronto quartet has written, engineered and produced by itself. Only a few limited-edition copies include the bonus EP with versions of far superior songs by Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, the Cure and the Youngbloods.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Sunday at Wolf Trap with Shawn Colvin. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Cowboy Junkies, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)