The Way They Groove Together


Music Express
March 1992

Sun comes up, it's Sunday morning. Well, it's almost noon, really, but it feels more like six a.m. What I need at times like these is music that can be absorbed with eyes closed and mind idling in a blessed-out semi-conscious state. So I put on The Cowboy Junkies.

Since The Trinity Session was released in 1988, the Cowboy Junkies have become notorious for their slow, smooth and of course soft sound. Margo Timmins' low, lush musings resound like a mantra, lulling listeners into Junkie-style somnolence. With their acclaimed followup album, The Caution Horses, and songs like "Sun Comes Up (It's Tuesday Morning)," the Junkies sound was entrenched. Junkie style, it seemed, did not evolve so much as it was reincarnated on each album.

"Our style is purposeful; it's a conscious thing, but it stems form the way we play together, the way we groove together," says Michael Timmins, band leader and big brother to bandmates Margo and Peter (Alan Anton, while not a Timmins by birth, is one by acclamation, having befriended the family back when he and Michael were in kindergarten). "When we bring people into the band, we emphasize that style to them. They have to understand us and appreciate what we're doing to fit in musically."

What the Junkies were doing, by telling us tales in such sad, soft renderings, was seduction. Margo Timmins can make the angriest dirge sound like a lullaby, and while we snoozed, the Junkie sound escaped from our speakers and filled our minds in slow, timed release.

The Junkies' new album, Black Eyed Man, while remaining true to this principle of gentle persuasion, has a slightly harder edge that's evident in the moments of departure from the usual ethereal vibration that seems to emanate from Margo's vocal chords and be emitted from the mists of her hair. On songs like "Oregon Hill", for instance, Michael picks up the pace and the not-so-meek Margo really belts it out.

"With every record we've all sat down to talk about what changes or improvements we want to make," Michael says. "With this one there were two areas we wanted to explore. I wanted to explore musical structure; time shifts and tempo shifts. Margo wanted to expand her singing style, her range. We also wanted to approach each song individually rather than the whole album being one long song. I wanted this one to have different perspectives in each song."

As sole producer and chief songwriter, Michael was able to ensure that that vision was translated to vinyl. And in fact, each song on Black Eyed Man does tell a different story. But, consistent with the band's unobtrusive sound, Michael's songwriting style does not shove message of morality in your face, but instead entices individual thought and feelings by telling us stories through the eyes of a variety of onlookers. And for the Junkies, this is a much more effective way of communicating than that of the musical majority.
"I personally really hate message songs," Michael says. "I find them insulting because there's only one point of view. I don't like being preached at. I like songs that make you think and maybe talk about things with other people, get their point of view too.

"All I really try to do is get people to come away with a feeling of inspiration," he continues. "I really want people to be inspired either to pick up a phone or a pen or anything, and just communicate with another person. In a storytelling song people are much more likely to both enjoy the song and hear your message."

But make no mistake; Black Eyed Man is not a collection of bedtime stories. The album ends with what, for the Junkies, could be considered an uptempo tune. It's not a dance track, but it sure is toe-tapping. Junkie junkies be warned: this one may be too much for the Sunday morning reverie of laid-back listening with brain firmly planted in the fields of oblivion. This one may pierce the fog a little. Maybe they should put a warning on this album. Surprises can be tough to take, especially on Sundays.

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