Cowboy Junkies Shoot for Success
Nashville's Bluebird Cafe is packed for the local debut of the Cowboy
Junkies. The Canadian band's lethargic cover of "Sweet Jane"
has been talked up by Lou Reed, but it remains to be seen whether the
dreamy mood music the Cowboy Junkies conjure up for their RCA debut,
The Trinity Session, is the work of a rural Velvet Underground
or just the result of iron-poor blood. Even after the second set at
the Bluebird - as at many of their other shows around the country -
the jury is hung on whether the Junkies' amalgam of country and blues
is the real deal or simply posturing.
"The root of both musics comes form the same American experience,"
says guitarist and group mastermind Michael Timmins, 29. "Blues
is black, country's white, and yet they come from the same sort of feelings.
It's a poor, rural experience."
Poor and rural are hardly the words one would use
to describe the members of the Cowboy Junkies. Michael, along with his
sister, vocalist Margo Timmins, 28, his brother, drummer Peter Timmins,
23, and a longtime family friend, bassist Alan Anton, 29, hail from
"It doesn't make a difference where you come from,: Michael says.
"If you strip away all the bullshit and the pretense, we all relate
to the same basic emotions."
The Trinity Session, which was originally released on the band's own
label, Latent Records, came at the end of ten years of avoiding the
musical mainstream. After Michael finished school, he and Anton drifted
to New York with a band. "It seemed romantic to go to New York
with a band," Michael says. When that group broke up, they drifted
to London and formed an improvisational band.
That, too, ran its course. Michael went home to Toronto and began jamming
with his brother and sister, with Anton later joining them. Though the
Cowboy Junkies- a name picked strictly for its attention-grabbing nature
- sounded nothing like his previous bands, their lulling, drugged sound
drew on Michael's experiences.
When asked about the relationship between the group's name and dreamy
music, and his own exposure to drugs, Michael is cagey. "Hopefully
the music I'm involved with reflects my life as accurately as possible,"
he says. "The fact that I lived in neighborhoods like New York's
Alphabet City and Notting Hill Gate, in London, where there were drugs
everywhere, definitely has an impact on the music."
But Michael isn't the only group member who feels his experiences shape
the group's music. Margo, whose low-key vocals help define the ambiance
of the Junkies on the record and in concert, offers an unusually personal-
if cryptic - perspective on the band.
"The music we're doing now fits my personality," she says.
"It's low-key, it's soft, it's an offering. A gentle offering,
It's not a demand."
Where the Junkies go from here is anyone's guess. The Trinity Session,
recorded in one 14-hour session in a Toronto church, shows them to be
a band that plays one mood well. In order to sustain the public interest,
they're going to have to expand, and they know it. Their current tour
features an augmented band, with Kim Deschamps on pedal steel, Jeff
Bird on fiddle, mandolin and harmonica and Jaro Czerwinec on accordion.
"When we did Trinity Session, the sidemen had just joined us,"
Michael says. "Our next album will incorporate their instruments
more into the actual sound. It won't be a kick-ass rock & roll song
and then a ballad - but it'll evolve. We'll surprise people."