John Metzger's #18 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by John Metzger
Tue March 4, 2008, 07:05 AM CST
To some, the Cowboy Junkies has made few, if any missteps in the 20 years that have passed since it issued The Trinity Session, the haunting and mesmerizing sophomore set that put the ensemble on the map outside its Canadian homeland. To others, the groupís dark and moody explorations often have seemed too oppressive and single-minded to bear. Both sides, however, largely have agreed that The Trinity Session was an instant classic, and its influence undeniably has spread far and wide, infiltrating works by The Last Town Chorus, Hem, and Kate Maki. Not surprisingly, whether it is fair or not, it also has become the album to which every subsequent effort that the Cowboy Junkies has released inevitably is compared.
Most outfits that have suffered a similar fate have struggled to survive. They become locked in a battle with themselves, and as much as they may try to move forward, they find that it is all but impossible to escape their own past. In a sense, the Cowboy Junkies, too, has fallen prey to this predicament. The Caution Horses, for example, was an attempt to build upon The Trinity Session, but although it was moderately successful, it also felt a little forced into place. Yet, the group, to its credit, never gave up; it never stopped trying to outdo itself. As a result, many fans quite rightly have felt that the Cowboy Junkies has not received the recognition that it has deserved for assembling a stellar cache of albums. Determining which of these outings can hold its own against The Trinity Session, however, is a bit of a futile exercise. There is no consensus on the matter, and depending upon who is asked the question, Black Eyed Man, Pale Sun, Crescent Moon, Early 21st Century Blues, and At the End of Paths Taken have all found homes in the hearts of the bandís followers.
Of late, the Cowboy Junkies has given the appearance of fighting harder than usual to reclaim its past glory. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense for the ensemble to return to the scene of its coronation. Wisely, the group is aware that it canít expect to achieve the same results simply by settling back into its makeshift recording studio, and despite ongoing pressure from within the music business, the Cowboy Junkies repeatedly has resisted the urge to follow the same blueprint in creating its albums. Although its latest effort Trinity Revisited superficially gives the impression that perhaps the band has relented, the outing is not born from regurgitation or replication. Nor, is it merely a publicity stunt.
Plenty of magic still remains inside Torontoís Church of the Holy Trinity, and despite the influx of audio and video equipment that a bigger budget allows ó The Trinity Session was recorded with just a single stereo microphone ó Trinity Revisited is a superb endeavor that proves that the Cowboy Junkies hasnít lost one bit of its understated edginess. Margo Timminsí vocals, in particular, are as ethereal and seductive as they ever were. From her a cappella rendition of Mining for Gold to the crushing devastation that she brings to Dreaming My Dreams with You to the blues-y currents she traces in Patsy Clineís Walkiní after Midnight, itís clear that no one can sing a song quite like she does. Her ability not only to convey but also to shape the emotions of the material that she and her brother Michael both borrowed and wrote largely has been improved by the additional two decades that she has had to live with and perform it.
In an attempt to bring a fresh perspective to The Trinity Session, the members of the Cowboy Junkies invited several artists, to whom the original album was quite important, to join them in Toronto. Itís an intriguing idea, and although in practice the results are uneven, it nonetheless was a move that was necessary to turning Trinity Revisited into something more than a collectorís item. The biggest obstacles occur when Margo Timmins steps away from the microphone in order to allow Ryan Adams and Vic Chesnutt to carry the material on their own backs. Neither is truly capable of matching the gravity of Timminsí vocals, and 200 More Miles, in particular, stumbles considerably in Adamsí hands. By contrast, Natalie Merchant finds true beauty with her subdued, gospel-soul reading of To Love Is to Bury, and she proves that she and Timmins are kindred spirits when the duo goes toe-to-toe on the country-tinged Misguided Angel.
Musically speaking, however, Trinity Revisited is monumentally successful. With his guitar, Adams pushes the material as much as Michael Timmins does, and together, they add quite a zing to the slow-burning blues grooves of I Donít Get It and Working on a Building. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird is, however, the setís secret ingredient, and whether he is playing harmonica, mandolin, or fiddle, he never fails to put a charge into the material. Although it would have been an impossible task for the Cowboy Junkies to have bettered The Trinity Session, the group did, at times, manage to meet the songs squarely on their own terms, and that alone is a rather stunning accomplishment. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Trinity Revisited is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box