Monday, February 18, 2008
Cowboy Junkies: Trinity Revisited
Written by Fumo Verde
In 1988 the Cowboy Junkies released their second album Trinity Sessions and put the band’s name on the charts. The album was recorded in the Church of the Holy Trinity in the city of Toronto, Canada. The basic cost of making this album produced by Peter Moore was around $250, of which five dollars went to the church’s caretaker to let the band stay a little longer while they kept recording. Centered around a single microphone and using a mix of traditional folk songs along with ones written by Michael Timmins, Trinity Sessions became a hit.
So what is Trinity Revisited? It’s a film by Pierre & Francois Lamourex that celebrates the original album’s twentieth year by capturing the acoustics of the old church while adding some new sounds to those haunted songs. Brining the talents of Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, and longtime friend/part-time Junkie Jeff Bird, who can make the mandolin cry and the harmonica sing, the ensemble revitalizes the music and makes a completely different album from the one made two decades ago. The Lamourex Brothers along with the Junkies gathered together not only musical talent but film, sound, and lighting talent from all over to help shoot this.
My congratulations must go out to Pierre & Francois for the amazing crew that made this incredible film. All of this musical talent in one church blows up as new twists to the old tunes tell those familiar stories through different eyes. For those of you who only bought the first album for the cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” the band plays this “tune-up intro” where Michael Timmins and Ryan Adams do a little dueling on guitar as drummer Peter Timmins loosens up by checking all his skins and cymbals. Bassist Alan Anton tickles his Fender until a crescendo of noise peeks, then nothing, a lone voice calls out “2, 3,” then that familiar thumping starts. Ryan’s guitar takes this song into a different orbit as Michael’s strumming keeps the song on the right trajectory. Having Ryan sing a chorus and using Natalie on this track to back Margo gave the song new depth and a whole different feel that even Lou Reed would dig.
Natalie and Margo share choruses on “Misguided Angel” and the harmony these two women have is unbelievable. Margo has that low sultry, soulful tone while Natalie has an uplifting yet sorrowful Irish spirit. Put them together and I don’t have the college degree to find the words to describe the awesome sound these new twists put on such a beautiful song. Add Mr. Bird on the mandolin and you add a bluegrass twang.
Vic Chesnutt sounds like Dylan on a rendition of “So Lonesome I Could Cry” that would make Hank Williams proud. Along with Margo, who I think has the sexiest voice in music, these two contrast well against each other and give the song a stirring vibe.
“Working on a Building” has to be my favorite track out of them all. Everyone contributes; the lighting and camera work capturing the energy going through the church as this gospel traditional explodes as a rocking blues jam.
I am so impressed with the work the Cowboy Junkies and everyone else involved put into this film that I have to say that this will be one of the more memorable things I will get to review in 2008, and the year has just started. The music is great with all its new sounds and it really sets itself apart from the original album.
One of the greatest things about this DVD was the documentary on the making of Trinity Revisited. The band gives us some cool insights on what it was like for them back then and how they have grown since. We also get to see Natalie, Vic, and Ryan in a more intimate setting as they prepare to play songs that have had influence on them.
Trinity Revisited comes with the DVD and a CD so you can keep it jamming on those long road trips from California to Tennessee (it will be coming with me to Bonnaroo). The album encompasses folk, country, blues and bluegrass with a twinge of rock ‘n’ roll keeping the music alive and well. The Cowboy Junkies have always been on my top-ten list and Trinity Revisited will enshrine them there forever.