The Cowboy Junkies revist their most popular album
March 14, 2008 9:10 PM   Subscribe

Back in 1987, the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies recorded The Trinity Session (which featured their one big hit, Sweet Jane), ). To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary they brought a few fellow musicians to the church where the album was originally recorded to see what 20 years experience would do to the same set of songs. Here's a video from the session, with Natalie Merchant on backing vocals.

More Youtube links of the band:

A Common Disaster (Music video)

Angel Mine (Music Video)

Misguided Angel (Live)

Miles from home (Music Video)

Sunday Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning (live)

Open (Music Video)

Townes Van Zandt cover, "To Live is to Fly" (live)

U2 cover, "One" (live)
posted by Brandon Blatcher (35 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this most excellent post, Brandon. Hours of enjoyment here.
posted by dawson at 9:14 PM on March 14, 2008

20 years! Holy Christ!
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:24 PM on March 14, 2008

Thought I was dreaming when I saw this post..... [swoons with Cowboy Junkie luuurve]
posted by orange swan at 9:25 PM on March 14, 2008

Wow. One of my favorite albums from a long time ago. I put the album on with good headphones and listen to the church's air conditioner hum along with the band.
posted by uaudio at 9:28 PM on March 14, 2008

Aw, nice memories. Many (!) years back, I couldn't get tickets to their show to ask out this girl who really wanted to go, but I guess I sounded pretty disappointed on the phone, and the guy hesitated and said they were short crew for the night, and if I would work the stage, I could watch for free. I begged an extra spot for an additional helper, and our first date was setting up for the Junkies. :) She even got to handle the instruments, lucky girl. Magical start to a long relationship.

Thanks for the reminder, BB.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:33 PM on March 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

I discovered the Junkies from the "Pump Up the Volume" soundtrack, though their cover of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues" never appeared in the movie (or anywhere else AFAIK) and to this day I wonder how the hell that version got on the soundtrack. Anyway that lead me to their first album "Whites off Earth Now"which consisted mostly of covers (Springsteen, Lightning Hopkins, Bukka White, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, BB King) and that really opened my eyes up to music.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:35 PM on March 14, 2008

Whoah, thanks for this. One of my favorite albums, too, and I can't believe it's been 20 years.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:39 PM on March 14, 2008

Today's Cat and Girl comic is titled Trinity and seems to be related.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:39 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was a dj in college when this album came out. I was trying to do a country radio show and just barely managed to get on the air - I got a lot of shit for playing country music back then. But everyone played this album. I saved me a lot of grief. And of course I played my copy til the tape broke.
posted by smartyboots at 9:42 PM on March 14, 2008

I bought this album while a poor college student; don't know how I afforded it. I had developed an interest in the Indigo Girls, the Violent Femmes and Bob Dylan, but I really know almost nothing about bands who weren't played on the classic rock station I listened to in high school. So I popped this cassette into the tape player in the car of the friend who drove me to the music store. Knowing almost nothing about the Junkies other than they were supposed to be like the Violent Femmes mixed with Waylon Jennings, we were both kind of surprised to hear the gentle a cappella of "Mining For Gold." My friend turned to me and said "the thrash guitars will probably kick in any second now." But no, it was not to be.

The aforementioned "Mining For Gold" became one of my favorites. It's one of the most depressing folk songs I've ever heard. Of course, I also listened to their rendition of "Sweet Jane" at least four thousand times. My then girlfriend didn't think much of the tape until she heard "Jane" in Natural Born Killers; then, of course, we had to listen to it over and over again.

I think, though, that I became most attached to "200 More Miles." It contains, as far as I'm concerned, the most (probably inadvertently) accurate description of Montgomery, Alabama (where I've lived most of my life) ever to make its way into any song, ever.

Atlanta's a distant memory,
Montgomery a recent blur

I'd have to say that sums it up nicely.
posted by Clay201 at 10:14 PM on March 14, 2008

Twenty years ago! So, twenty years ago, I was sitting in a bistro in Ottawa's Byward Market (it might have been called Claire De Lune) with a bunch of friends and my new girlfriend. I was young and inexperienced in life and was simply loving being out and about with these wonderful and hip people. The album must have been playing for a while but when Mining For Gold came on, I noticed. Christ, I noticed! And that was more conversation from me. I sat at the table, no doubt with an inward and withdrawn look on my face, and listened to the music. Eventually everybody noticed that something was going on with me and asked me what was up. I simply said, "Who. Is. This?" Justine, possibly the hippest and coolest woman I've ever met, nodded with a knowing look and said, "You've just been claimed by the best album of the year. It's the Cowboy Junkies, from an album called Trinity Sessions." We all listened for a song. A table of eight people, saying nothing, in a restaurant, listening to a little piece of heaven. It was a sublime moment.

A moment in time, summer, twenty years ago.

Thanks for the memories.
posted by ashbury at 11:07 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

2008 - 21.5 = lying in my college house bed with a crippling hangover, listening to my radio DJ roomies blast this LP, and 'Misguided Angel,' in particular, at eleven for a solid month. I still feel empowering endorphins as I listen to any one of these songs.

However, it should be noted that I felt at the time, and still do, that the deliberate dynamic compression heard in the Trinity Sessions, while ingenious, does a disservice to the actual potential dynamic range of both the songs and the performers. Created without transcendent intent, the strict range in the original recordings produced a kind of alt-easy-listening esthetic which I c ertainly appreciated as a hungover kid.

Even as I lay there, thankful for the lack of jarring volume shifts and rhythm changes, I wondered if it was reasonable to appreciate the work specifically for its' lack of challenging moments and surprises.

Twenty years on it appears that whether or not it's reasonable, I did, and I do.

Oddly, or not, I was first discovering the Velvet Underground the same summer this came out, so I heard the Cowboy Junkies' version of Sweet Jane within the same few months I first heard the original.
posted by mwhybark at 11:24 PM on March 14, 2008

I gotta say, I love the Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session, which, at the time still new, helped get me through my freshman year in college, and which remains on my own personal top-10-albums-of-all-time list.

That said, Jeff Gordinier's March 2008 article "Once Only, With Feeling" for Spin Magazine, (positing the J.D. Salinger Principle of Shooting Your Wad) makes a compelling argument that the Cowboy Junkies should have accepted the perfection of this album, and not tried to "spend the next 20 years trying to live up to the flukey, firefly-in-a-Mason-jar magnificence of the moment." (Okay, I don't quite agree 100% with it, but I see where Mr. Gordinier's coming from.)
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:25 PM on March 14, 2008

Wait, was it really 'Misguided Angel?'
posted by mwhybark at 11:25 PM on March 14, 2008

Okay, that session video makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Knockout post, man.
posted by rtha at 11:29 PM on March 14, 2008

Track listing

All songs written by Margo Timmins and Michael Timmins unless otherwise indicated.

1. "Mining for Gold" (James Gordon)– 1:34
2. "Misguided Angel" – 4:58

posted by mwhybark at 11:29 PM on March 14, 2008

The original album is one of the most well recorded albums of all times. If you have a good stereo this album will seem live, and I loved the music too, that beautiful spare arrangement.
posted by caddis at 12:25 AM on March 15, 2008

That said, Jeff Gordinier's March 2008 article "Once Only, With Feeling" [...] makes a compelling argument that the Cowboy Junkies should have accepted the perfection of this album, and not tried to "spend the next 20 years trying to live up to the flukey, firefly-in-a-Mason-jar magnificence of the moment."

Some (okay, many) years ago, around about the time the Junkies released their fourth album, a critic made the observation that while he liked the album, he felt that that the Cowboy Junkies were like a joke that he'd got years ago. A cruel observation, but while the band has brushed brilliance occasionally since, they've been caged by peaking early, both a prize and a terror. After Trinity, everything is postscript.
posted by outlier at 2:09 AM on March 15, 2008

A thing of beauty which has been a joy for twenty years now. Thanks for the post.
posted by nicolin at 2:39 AM on March 15, 2008

Brilliant album. I'll be watching those links this afternoon.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:58 AM on March 15, 2008

they've been caged by peaking early,

Oh, I vehemently disagree and would say such a view is shortsighted and one mentioned only by those who want to pigeonhole the band into the Trinity Session sound. The band itself has consistently followed its own muse, making the kind of music they want to make, saying things they want to say with a lot of great results. Sure, those later albums aren't like the Trinity Session, but the Trinity Session can't match the brilliance of some of their later stuff either.

If you take each of their albums on it's own merit, while still viewing the whole as the band's growth and journey, you'll see that they've created a stunning body of work.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 AM on March 15, 2008

Black-Eyed Man is a fantastic album, too. Maybe even better than Trinity.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on March 15, 2008

I'm embarassed to admit but I had not heard anything by The Velvet Underground when the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" blew up so when I first heard Loaded I was like "They're playing it wrong!"
posted by monkeymike at 8:23 AM on March 15, 2008

I'm in the mood to bitch about something, and I'm having a hard time coming up with anything as far as the music is concerned. I really wish they wouldn't have filmed the Revisited Sessions with all the pretentious mood lighting. Frankly, it reminds me of a John Tesh concert I'd see on PBS.
posted by tfmm at 8:25 AM on March 15, 2008

I'm in the mood to bitch about something,

You got the Early 21st Century Blues?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:30 AM on March 15, 2008

I'm a Cowboy Junkies fan with several of their albums, but I somehow haven't heard Trinity Sessions, and didn't realize that it was considered a "career peak" for them. My favorite album is Pale Sun/Crescent Moon, and I love their recent mellow psychedelic feedbacky stuff like on Open and One Soul Now.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2008

***** Love it. Isn't that Ryan Adams?
posted by chuckdarwin at 10:04 AM on March 15, 2008

I believe I first heard of this band while listening to the late night weekend show on CBC stereo. Ralph Benmergui was hyping them from Winnipeg. I don't like to think of Ralph Benmurgui, so I won't be getting nostalgic with the rest of you old folk.
posted by TimTypeZed at 10:08 AM on March 15, 2008

sn't that Ryan Adams?

Yep, he was invited to play on Trinity Revisited.

Though based on that one clip from the session, I'm not sure Natalie Merchant was a good choice. Not because she's a bad singer, but like many lead singers, she doesn't seem to know to sing backup, her voice just naturally tries to take center stage. Combine that with Margo's quietly powerful voice and it sounds a bit awkward at times. Plus I'm not sure she has to emotional depths to really do the songs justice like Margo Timmins did, but we'll see.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:39 AM on March 15, 2008

I hate to be one of those guys - but I was a fan before "The Trinity Session". Their first self-released cassette (yes, cassette) "Whites Off Earth Now!!" still sits on top of my CD rack.
posted by davebush at 10:50 AM on March 15, 2008

Seconding "Black Eyed Man" as at least equal to Trinity Sessions, though unlike Dave, my copy of "Whites Off Earth Now" is a CD remaster. Sigh.

Michael's written some of the most clever/nasty lyrics of the last 20 years. Under-appreciated, I think.

They're great live, too.
posted by rokusan at 11:23 AM on March 15, 2008

God, I'd forgotten about Ralph Benmergui.

"Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning" is one of my favourite songs of all time, by anybody. ("No milk! Oh God I hate that!")
posted by joannemerriam at 12:39 PM on March 15, 2008

I saw them live for the first time last year. They put on a great show in spite of it just being Margo and Michael on stage for the first half -- the rest were watching the last episode of The Sopranos in the bus.
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:56 PM on March 15, 2008

I'd like to hear June Tabor cover "Misguided Angel."
posted by Auden at 5:53 PM on March 15, 2008

@Cookiebastard, There's another album by them (released in 86) Whites Off Earth Now which IMHO ranks right up there alongside Trinity Sessions. It precedes Trinity Sessions by a couple of years.
posted by lahersedor at 6:04 PM on March 15, 2008

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