It’s been 50 years since that fateful day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A lot has been written and a lot of movies have been made about it. Musicians, on the other hand, have rarely approached the topic.

Cowboy Junkies aim to change that. Their sprawling epic record The Kennedy Suite (also being staged as a post-modern musical) doesn’t just cover the Kennedy assassination but everything around it.

The artists on the album (ranging from well known Canadian artists such as Hawksley Workman and Sarah Harmer to lesser known acts) write from the perspectives of many people both involved and touched by the landmark event – all the way from Kennedy himself and, assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald and on down to schoolgirls enamored with the President and an orderly at the hospital where he died.

The album keeps a strong and consistent tone throughout which makes the transition from artist to artist and story to story seamless. Speaking of which, the story is both gripping and powerful. The songs do a great job of creating a moment of time in your mind and transporting the listener to November 1963.

You feel Jackie Kennedy’s heartbreak in “Disintegrating”, you feel the hurting redemption of the police officer in “Take Heart” and you relate to the young paperboys youthful exuberance in the records best song, “Secret Spy Decoder Ring” which is performed by Harlan Pepper.

The thoroughly engrossing tale reaches it’s emotional climax in Jason Collett‘s “Arlington” which has President Kennedy addressing the country one last time as his body is brought to the Arlington National Cemetery.

If there is a weakness on The Kennedy Suite, it is that after “Arlington”, everything else seems anti-climactic. The record’s last three songs are very good songs on their own (highlighted by Sarah Harmer‘s “White Man in Decline”) however they feel more like an addendum than part of the story.

That aside, The Kennedy Suite is a remarkable accomplishment for Cowboy Junkies – a concept album that not only works as a whole but excels in the sums of its parts as well.

Much of the films and books written about the JFK assassination leave audiences divided. It’s the nature of the beast with such topics. Not so with the The Kennedy Suite. We can all agree that this is one great record.


The debut performance of The Kennedy Suite will take place at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto on November 22 and 23. The album itself is out on November 12.

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