Hard to believe that Jones is only 34--and that her three previous worldly-wise albums came out when she was in her 20s, starting with her debut a decade ago--just as it's hard to believe her old partner in beatnikitudes, Tom Waits, made so much of his grizzled pop at such a sprightly age. Now that they really are adding rings to their respective trees, how much more authoritative their music is.
All that comes to mind especially because so many lines in "Flying Cowboys" have to do with age. Both of the side-opening numbers (the first of which is a lullaby) conclude with the line "When I was young I was a wild, wild one"; later on, she quips knowingly, "We've been outlaws on the run / I was just a baby when I fired my gun."
Doth the woman protest too much, too soon, you oldsters ask? Nah. "Cowboys" does have elements of melancholy and loss, but in fact this awareness of time passed really seems to have made Jones sweeter and more good-tempered, if anything; it includes several of her simplest and most easily consumed love songs ever.
Like all her work, this graceful collection sounds spontaneous and surprising and tight and elaborate--giving all those studio musicians she's once again employed something worthwhile to do with their chops. "Cowboys" is neither as moving as 1981's "Pirates" nor as complex as 1984's "The Magazine," but in adding extra wallops of maturity and lovingness to the streetwise literacy, it's scarcely less valuable.