In one magnificent moment, the time it took for a needle to drop on a vinyl disk, everything I thought about music changed. I was a big admirer of the Velvet Underground, and for a while spent a lot of time arguing with people–often strangers at parties–that the Velvets were bigger and more important than the Rolling Stones and Beatles combined. So, it was a no brainer when I read a review in the pages of Spin magazine in which a Spin critic raved over a new Canadian band, Cowboy Junkies, and their new album, especially their cover of “Sweet Jane.” The reviewer went on to describe the album as “the perfect 3am listening music.’
I was sold. I immediately–within an hour–ran out and bought the record, brought it home, and was stunned by the sweet, resonant a capella voice that embraced me, with a mournful, unanticipated beauty.
Sweet Jane. 1989. The Johnny Carson “cameo” is a nice bonus.
The rest of the album, the Trinity Sessions, was equally remarkable. Recorded at Toronto, Ontario’s Church of the Holy Trinity on a cold day in late November 1987, the band huddled around a single microphone and made what is quite possibly the most intimate album ever made, its eclectic mix covers and originals begging the question: was it rock, or folk, or country, or blues? My friend Brett Day, the notorious, British-born Pittsburgh-based sculptor, musician, and all-around renaissance man, once proclaimed, “when I first heard “Trinity” I thought, “my god, punk rock music can absolutely be played at 1 mile per hour.” He came as close as anyone to hitting the nail on the head.
There’s a moment, on the live album 200 More Miles, when a fan shouts “Rock and Roll!” between songs, and singer Margot Timmins, who always seems to have a cup of tea and a vase of flowers on hand for performances, leans into the microphone and says. “Well, before I rock and roll I always like to sit down….” which is deeply informative.
More than a quarter of a century later, the Junkies remain my favorite band. I’ve seen them several dozen times live, more often than not for free (for a long time they had a real penchant for doing festival shows) and the love affair continues….