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If you do not know Cowboy Junkies, you are either 12 years old, have lived under a rock for the past 25 years or just have no interest in incredibly talented musicians playing real instruments. But there is hope for you yet. Read on and be amazed.
This Canadian blues band shot to fame in 1987 with their cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”,and good lord, was it a beautiful, sweeping cover that dominated the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.It came off their second album, The Trinity Sessions, which was recorded on one microphone in the Church of the Holy Trinity (known for its acoustics) with a budget of a few 100 dollars! But even though “Sweet Jane”was riveting, it is surpassed in depth, atmosphere and chill factor by the track “Postcard Blues”.If the harmonica does not give you goosebumps, consider seeing a professional.
The Junkies consists of the three Timmins siblings and some other dude. Margot has a voice that will seduce the unseducible; Michael writes pure poetry and handles a guitar with immense skill; and Peter kills on drums. (Jeff Bird helps out every now and again.)
An interviewer asked them if they ever fight as siblings are prone to do. Margot answered that the world sees three of the Timmins clan, but there is massive extended Timmins family that will not stand for any sibling shenanigans. So no, they do not fight.
The importance of family and certain values influenced their decision to live balanced lives at home in Canada, not constantly tour, not chase money and fame. That meant that the long list of brilliant albums produced after The Trinity Sessions did not get the international exposure it would have otherwise. I salute their choice.
They also left Geffen Records and opened their own label, Latent Recordings. That meant they were in complete control of their own music. They could upload their existing catalogue, but also previously unreleased, rare treats. Thankfully, they decided not to market only their own work, but to use Latent Recordings to introduce to the worldlesser known, but equally talented Canadian artists.
Margot’s Corner – Ty Tyrfu Sessions, Volume 1 is one of the rare treats to be found on the site. It is Margot’s one and only solo album and contains a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance me to the end of Love” that evokes heartache, misery and the souls of the long departed.
Barbara Lynch is such a gem. She is the female Tom Waits – she has the raspy voice, the off-the-wall yet haunting lyrics and the slightly wonky-sounding, but perfectly engineered piano and guitar. One of my highlights off her solo album, In the Nickelodeon, is “We go back a long way”. Read my review of her album here.
In 2007, 20 years after the release of The Trinity Sessions, the Junkies revisited the Church of the Holy Trinity, but this time around they had proper equipment, a slightly bigger budget and a few friends, including Ryan Adamsand the über-awesome Natalie Merchant (10 000 Maniacs). They rerecorded the whole album and introduced me to the prolific Vic Chesnut. I thank them for that.
Vic is dead, though. He died from a painkiller overdose shortly after recording Trinity Revisited. Some say it was accidental, but considering his level of disability and medical bills adding up it could have been a choice. He was a gifted artist as a child. A car accident at 18 left him quadriplegic from the neck down. He released 17 albums despite the uphill physical battle and we are grateful that he did.
When you’ve got Cowboy Junkies as your backing band, but you don’t sound like Cowboy Junkies, it is rather impressive. You have kept your own sound, but have consummate musicians to back you up.
So what does Lee Harvey Osmond sound like? Part Roger Waters, part Chris Isaacs, part Marianne Faithfull. Incredible, I know.
I stand by what I wrote, but will add a comment about The Folk Sinner, released in late January 2013.
The Folk Sinner is still recognisable as a Lee Harvey Osmond record. It is still slow-brewed blues with a slight country twang, some organ, some clarinet and a hypnotising, carefully measured rhythm which is only enhanced by Tom Wilson’s inviting voice.
The differences are subtle. I had to listen to the album a few times to pick them up. The already full sound on the first album is even moodier now, more epic, more layered and slightly more heartbroken.
The Folk Sinner also introduced Hawksley Workman to me. But that is a whole new chapter ...