El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cowboy Junkies

“Cowboy Junkies” is one of the best names to convey a band’s sound. The words’ connotations signal a wide musical palette for the band to draw from as they frame the torch song tales delivered by Margo Timmins who continues to make despair sound so good. This artistic expanse keeps the listener engaged, as they never know what is coming next.

This DVD+CD combo finds Cowboy Junkies at the end of their 2004 One Soul Now tour at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in England, three years after their last appearance in the UK. They are a sextet that have been all been working together since their major label debut, 1988’s The Trinity Session. Joining Margo are Alan Anton on bass, Jaro Czerwinec on accordion, utility player Jeff Bird, who played mandolin, harmonica, and percussion, and her brothers Peter on drums and Mike, lead guitarist and songwriter of the band’s original songs. Playing together for so long has obviously given them an air of confidence as they play on a bare stage; it’s just them, their music, and colored lights.

The set opens by going back to their beginnings with their cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” The song is expanded by Mike’s brilliant playing. He’s a slow, steady hand that knows exactly what he’s doing and does it like very few, reminiscent of David Gilmour in style, though not in sound. Sitting in his chair, he delivers a smoldering fury that, combined with the accordion accompaniment, could very well have transported the listener elsewhere were it not for the song’s familiar steady beat kept by the rhythm section.

The sounds and moods are constantly shifting. “Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning” is a short, easygoing country tune describing the brief moments of strength during a break-up before the remembrance of heartbreak sets back in. It is followed by Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues” a grim, angry tale about dealing with your lover when they don’t come home. Mike soars to magnificent heights once again with the aide of a metal slide on this 13-minute epic. The accordion and mandolin on “’Cause Cheap Is How I Feel” create a smooth country/folk sound. Mike drops a great fuzzed-out guitar solo in the middle of it.

Cowboy Junkies show they can also play unplugged during a four-song acoustic set sans bass and drums, seamlessly mixing older songs, “1000 Year Prayer” and “A Horse In The Country,” with new ones from “One Soul Now,” “Notes Falling Slow,” and “The Slide.” The concert is closed out with renditions of “Helpless” by Neil Young, a fellow Canadian and obvious influence on Mike's guitar playing, and George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity,” before an inspiring performance of their classic “Misguided Angel” that has Margo only being accompanied by Mike on guitar.

The DVD is put together well. The camera shots are tight and intimate without seeming obtrusive or invasive. The audio is available in Dolby Digital or Dolby Surround 5.1. Extras include interviews with the band: thirty-two minutes with Margo & Mike, fourteen minutes with Alan and Pete, and seven minutes with Jeff and Jaro. There’s also a peek at the sound check intercut with an interview of the band’s production manager, but there’s not much to it, so it can be skipped.

Long Journey Home also makes available a CD of the show though the order is mixed up. The centerpiece “32-20 Blues” becomes the first song, and the last song is show opener “Sweet Jane.” Seven songs don’t appear on the CD, some of Margo’s banter is cut, and the applause is edited so the listener wouldn’t know something was amiss, but none of that is a problem when music sounds this good.

Old fans and those new to Cowboy Junkies would do well in picking up this fantastic set.