Cowboy Junkies Trance Out Albany Crowd
Margo Timmins casually walked onto the stage looking down as if she were in a field searching for four-leaf clovers. She casually addressed the microphone. Was it superfluous to her performance? She began speaking almost as if she were talking to herself, but as she got closer to the microphone, she clicked into performance mode. Her two brothers, Michael sitting perched over his guitar and Peter on drums, locked into her voice. Alan Anton, Michael’s friend since kindergarten in 1959, stood stark still supplying the bass line.
Live, the Cowboy Junkies take their fans into trance mode, but their performance Sunday night at the Swyer Theater at The Egg was more organic and more solidly grounded than their recordings. Unlike a band such as the Moody Blues who take their three-dimensional spacy songs into a high-tech virtual journey that escapes gravity, The Junkies relied heavily on Margo’s vocals and solid musicianship to accomplish liftoff.
Michael’s electric guitar made almost constant use of a foot pedal. Alan’s bass was basic and Peter’s drumming was at times perfunctory. It was Jeff Bird who was the salt on the steak. Not officially a member of the band and never appearing in group photos, he played lap steel guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and even background vocal enhancements to a couple of Margo’s vocals.
In an advance interview, Michael admitted that the band through almost four decades has taken songs by other artists and made them their own. They closed the night with Patsy Cline’s “After Midnight” which is Shelly’s and my song. I wouldn’t have recognized it were it not for the title repeated in the vocals. They likewise “covered” “Dreaming My Dreams with You” from their breakout 1988 album Trinity Sessions. It was the best song of the first set highlighted by Jeff Brid’s ethereal mandolin. It’s an Allen Reynolds song and the title number of a 1975 Waylon Jennings album, but it certainly didn’t sound like outlaw country in this redo. These two songs were so evolved that if the band had claimed writing credits, Waylon and Patsy’s descendants might have trouble proving in court that the songs weren’t Junkie originals.
On the other hand, The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” from the Cowboy Junkie’s brand-new Songs of The Recollection album and “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed from his Velvet Underground late ’60s period captured the tone, mood, and implied danger of both Mick and Lou. “Sweet Jane” was the single from the Trinity Sessions album that caught the ear of alt-rock fans in the ’80s.
Margo is the undisputed centerpiece of the band. There is an element of danger inherent in their music, and she pulls off that element without colorful dress or an outrageous haircut typical of seven decades of rock decadence. She talked about walking the streets of New York City the night before the Albany show and how the sea of faces weirded her out, but I would hazard a guess that she went unrecognized in that walk.
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