Rolling Stone

February 9th, 1989

by Anthony DeCurtis

The Trinity Session is in the great tradition of albums that establish a mood and sustain it so consistently that the entire record seems like one continuously unfolding song. The mood in this instance is hypnotic and introspective – an intense, melancholic longing that blends the elemental emotions of country music and the blues with the poetic world-weariness of the Velvet Underground.

As the Cowboy Junkies’ name implies, that blending is highly intentional. The band covers Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” – in the meditative arrangement used on the Velvet’s live album 1969 – as well as such country standards as Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight”. All of the songs on the album are given spare, airy, slow-tempo treatments that evoke an atmosphere of mystery and allow the listener’s imagination to wander through their dark, empty spaces as if exploring a haunted house.

The group consists of three siblings – Margo Timmins on vocals, Michael Timmins on guitar and Peter Timmins on drums – and their longtime friend Alan Anton on bass; guest musicians play harmonica, fiddle, Dobro, accordion, pedal steel guitar and mandolin. When the songs slow to virtual stillness, the beat evaporates, and parts drift in and out in disembodied fashion, relating to the other instruments but maintaining an otherworldly detachment.

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THE TRINITY SESSION
Cowboy Junkies


RCA

The definitive features of the Cowboy Junkies sound, however, is Margo Timmins’ remarkable voice. Ethereal and cool, it is just throaty enough to impart a siren-like sensuality to the music. Even “Mining for Gold”, a traditional ballad, becomes something of a metaphysical lament in her a cappella rendition. The song’s concluding refrain – “I feel like I’m dying from mining for gold” – seems as much an admonition against searching for worldly satisfaction as a protest against unsafe mining conditions.

The ten songs on The Trinity Sessions (the CD version contains two additional tracks) were recorded in one day, using one microphone, at a church in Toronto, Canada. Having good songs, the skill to convey what they have to say and, most important, a vision, the Cowboy Junkies dispensed with high-tech trumpery and made their record simply and seriously. That attitude helped make the album as important as it is inspiring. – ANTHONY DECURTIS

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