Melody Maker Magazine

Addicted to Love

March 4, 1989

By Chris Roberts


Cooking Vinyl

MANY mistakes have been made in and out of love, but few so sizeable as mine ignoring Toronto’s Cowboy Junkies when the magnificently insane Andrew Catlin was trying to interest me in them last year. His, “Shit man, they’re really quiet and minimal and this girl sings and it just sounds like the best thing you’ve ever heard and you can’t explain why, man” remains the finest piece of music criticism of the decade. Then again, being introduced to the wife of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s lawyer and not realizing it was The Girl Who Sings was also a bumper oversight. In retrospect, of course it was her. She was classically beautiful and didn’t say a word.

“The Trinity Session”, recorded live at Toronto’s Church of The Holy Trinity at a cost of 200 dollars, is the quietest and saddest and most classically beautiful record you’ll hear between yesterday and the twelfth of never. Understatement has always been an admirable skill, but in applying it to such conventionally maudlin subjects as Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight”, Cowboy Junkies raise it to an art form. Perfection can be dull but here it glistens. Take the word of someone who detests the hammy whingeings of (rye not wry) country and western – Cowboy Junkies are both timeless (time stops) rock’n’roll poets and freshly, illuminatingly, stellar. “Trinity” bears its crosses with indomitable strength. Pain never sounded so graceful. For maximum impact buy this record next week then save playing it till the next time you’re utterly and unashamedly brokenhearted. (This advice is known as “a banker”.)

That three quarters of Cowboy Junkies (Margo Timmins’ voice, Michael’s guitar, Peter’s drums) is a family affair, is legible from the telepathic ease with which they follow and underscore one another’s plaintive pigments. Alan Anton’s bass is a wise man nodding in the corner. Nowhere is their complete grasp of what to put in and what to leave out more evident than on their wistful, poised interpretation of “Sweet Jane”, soon to be a single to drive you to doubles, described by Lou Reed as “the most authentic version I’ve heard.” It grips with the violence of silence.

Their own songs are amethyst. “Misguided Angel” expresses a desperately foolish love, while “I Don’t Get It” says just about everything about just about everything. It’s all so seemingly effortless yet truly anguished. Margo never strays from a level literalism, but the low-key lesions scratch in her throat and catch at your every memory. On “200 More Miles” her timbre is so close to existential. And then the harmonica on “Postcard Blues” is what a plankton says when it realizes it’s just a plankton. Yes I rather like that line.

When The Girl Who Sings whispers swimmingly on “Dreaming My Dreams With You, “someday I’ll get over you, I’ll live to see it all through…I won’t let it change me, not if I can/I’d rather believe in love”, it’s foggily clear that, in an era of exploitative Milk Tray adverts and suchlike, this music is a rare utterance of real devotional obsession, one eye on dreams and one on despair. Romance is dead, mutter Cowboy Junkies, long live romance.

Among many other things, like a new celestial zenith in white blues, and a suicide note, and a zephyr, and an incorrigible incantation of human pride, “The Trinity Session” is the album The Velvet Underground always should have made. No less. Be still my beating heart. Torched torched torched.

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