There's a curse as well as a blessing when you emerge with a work as striking as The Trinity Session, the Cowboy Junkies' woozy, haunted, stinging 1988 debut. While that masterpiece established the kind of reputation the Canadian band could live off for years, it also shadowed everything they came up with in its aftermath. When the music didn't have the same ethereal buzz, it was deemed a failure. Give the Junkies credit: Though there were times when they seemed to be hemmed in by their slow-to-boil, melancholic sensibility, they've avoided the apparent dead ends by subtly opening up their sound and expanding their vision. One Soul Now, their ninth studio effort, benefits from being the first to be recorded by the Junkies without an outside producer or engineer. With Michael Timmins producing -- and, as ever, providing the words and music and juicing the band's chamber sound on electric guitar -- the album has the charged intimacy of a pop confession box, without the guilt. Margo Timmins, a role model for a generation of singers with her expressive understatement and penetrating phrasing, shares auteur status in recasting his musings by shining a dark inner light on them. There are songs about pained romance ("My love lives inside a haze of gloom"), the vagaries of religion (fireflies are seen as "twinkling gifts from a puzzling god"), and the rewards of family life ("My wild child brings me home"). Michael Timmins will never be accused of committing popcraft, but that doesn't mean he can't dress up a tune such as "Stars Of Our Stars" with a great hook. "You make a star with an eager heart, but it always slips," sings Margo. "And then everything shifts." With this band, the shifts aren't always detectable, but like the stars, the Junkies never run out of cosmic sparkle.