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A Look Back….The Trinity Session (history – part 3 of 3)

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

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(I'll be posting a series of blogs over the coming days all about the making of The Trinity Session. Check out our Facebook page to see rare photos and anecdotes from me and Margo.)

November 27, 1987 

The pews and all seating had previously been removed so we had a choice of where to set up our equipment and recording gear, but since Peter had done some recording in the church he had a general idea of where he felt was the most acoustically sound spot. This was at the far end of the church hall away from the altar which would act as an enormous bass trap if we got too close to it. 

The first order of the day was to set up all the gear and try and get a balance between the four of us, that would be the ultimate key to the recording. Once we were balanced properly the other instruments could be layered on top with a lot more ease. Peter set up the mic and we set up as we had for the Whites session in our garage with drums on one side facing the bass and guitar off to the side. As fate would have it we had a great stroke of luck that day. Whoever had been using the church before us had had the need of a PA system which they had left behind. It was head and shoulders above the one that we had brought from our rehearsal space and meant a huge difference in the final recording. Margo's vocals, like during the Whites session, had to be run through a PA speaker and some guardian angel had seen fit to leave us a high quality system. The "vocal" or speaker was placed on top of the bass cabinet, Margo then stood about six feet outside the circle and sang through a separate mic. 

It took us about six hours of fussing to finally capture a sound that we were all happy with. This time was spent readjusting the microphone, moving an instrument five inches closer and then another instrument five inches further, turning one thing up and another down etc.. The process was far from simple and for a while it looked like we weren't going to be able to reign in the acoustics of the church. The natural reverb of the hall was overpowering our instruments. Finally after a few more adjustments we ran through a version of a song and adjourned to the small office (maybe it was one of the confessionals) where Peter had his playback equipment set up. The playback revealed Petes drums simmering softly in the background, Alan's bass rumbling underneath, my guitar airily chiming and Margo's voice floating easily above it all. We had found our sound. 

While we had been looking for our sound the rest of the musicians had shown up. They were asked to go amuse themselves in the mall or find a place in the church and be very still. At one point Jaro arrived fresh from an overnight trip from Montreal, not having slept in two days. He quietly found a place somewhere near the sacristy, curled up and fell asleep. To this day he tells the story of the first time he was lulled to sleep by the sound of Cowboy Junkies music echoing dreamily in the distance. 

The next couple of hours were spent recording the songs that involved only the four of us. Sweet Jane, Blue Moon and Dreaming My Dreams were all recorded within a few takes. The sound was holding together and as the music began to unfold the tension of the mornings efforts began to fade away. We then moved on to the simpler pieces which called for only one extra musician. Postcard Blues with Steves piercing harp solo, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry with Kims haunting steel playing, Working On A Building with Johns distinctive guitar work. After that we built the band up a bit more adding two players and recorded 200 More Miles and I Don't Get It. Every time we changed configurations it called for Peter to subtly shift the wave pattern on the microphone and to precisely place the added musician in a specific spot on the floor. This was the way the recorded sound was mixed – physically moving the instrument. If someone had a solo section they were asked to play a little louder during it (in the case of an electric guitar) or move physically closer to the mic (in the case of something like a mandolin). By the time we were arranged around the mic we were in a circle which measured about twelve feet in diameter. Standing and sitting side by side cueing off of each others playing or the nod of a head, listening and reacting. 

As the day progressed the occasional invited guest would drop by. Peter's wife Caroline dropped by with a couple of pizzas at one point knowing, otherwise, we wouldn't eat. Alan's wife Melanie stopped by with a friend and our friend Noel Archambault came by with his camera to visually record the proceedings. We also had a few uninvited guests throughout the day. One condition on renting the church was that we weren't allowed to close it, it had to be open to the public to wander through. A few takes were ruined by tourists stumbling through the front door admiring the faux gothic ceiling and almost bumping into Pete's drums in the process. I distinctly remember one young couple walking into the church and sitting down at the far end of hall and hanging out and listening for about thirty minutes. Years later I was having some work done on my house and one of the labourers doing the work told me about the day that he and his girlfriend had walked into Trinity church to take in the peace and quiet and had discovered a band playing inside. 

Once all of the sound bugs had been ironed out the day progressed magically. No song took more than three or four takes to capture and every musician seemed to be connecting with each other on a very subconscious plain. We were all having one of those magical moments that musicians rarely find themselves in, when the music takes over and you feel like you aren't really responsible for what you are doing – you are just the channeler. It rarely happens to an individual and it is even rarer for it to happen to a group of players and it is even rarer for it to happen with the tape rolling. I remember sitting in the confessional during a break and listening to the playback of I'm So Lonesome I could CryJeff Bird was there standing over my shoulder, this was only the second or third time that I had met Jeff. The song ended and Jeff looked at me and said, to no one in particular, "it's a beautiful thing…." And indeed it was. 

The biggest challenge of the day was going to be the songs involving seven or more musicians. There were three potential problems: the first was that we were running out of time. We had only booked the church for twelve hours. This problem was easily solved by Peter slipping the security guard twenty five dollars to let us stay another two hours. A more serious problem was that the more musicians involved the more difficult it became for Peter to properly place them around the mic. The other potential problem was that the bigger the group got the more complex the arrangements of the song got. These large arrangements we had never practiced so the potential for a complete cacophony when we started up was very real. As we ran through the arrangements for Misguided Angel, Peter fussed and fretted over the sound problem. By the time we were ready to begin Peter was too. Four minutes and thirty seven seconds later we had recorded Misguided Angel and it was time to move on. It was just one of those occasions when you perform a song and after it is over everyone looks at one another and you all know that you got it, there is no need to do it again. The miraculous thing was that it was the first time we had all played that song together and that is exactly what you hear on the album. To Love Is To Bury was next and it went just as smoothly. I distinctly remember playing the song that day and being swept up in swirl of sound that the steel, fiddle and accordion created when they started to breathe as one. 
The final number to be recorded was the big jam numberWalking After Midnight. We had purposely left the details of this song vague. All we knew was that we wanted all nine musicians to play on it. We quickly assigned who would soloin what spot told Peter to hit the record button and away we went. It is probably my favourite number on the album, because it is so impossibly loose and ragged just like music is suppose to be. It is the sound of a group of people tired, yet satisfied, celebrating the end of a long, but extremely succesful day. 

Epilogue 

One little fact about the session that few people know is that it was not all recorded in one day. Later that night as we were winding down at the bar we realized that we had forgotten to record Mining For Gold. We had kept putting it off to deal with the more complex songs, thinking that we would do it at the end of the day and then had just forgotten. A few days later Peter was back in the church recording the Toronto Symphony and on their lunch break he called Margo to come on down to the church. There in front of the entire TSO munching on sandwiches and sipping from thermoses, Margo ran through a couple of versions of Mining For Gold. The album was truly finished. 

**** 
The beauty of the Trinity Session is that what you are hearing is exactly what went on in the church that day. Nine people communicating openly and honestly with one another through their musical instruments. It is a rare thing to come across in this day and age of hard sell and celebrity. The day following the session I went over to Margo's house with some cassette copies of the session. Coincidentally our mother was there. She had dropped in after doing an errand downtown. We put on the tape and listened in silence. After it was all over we sat there a little overwhelmed by what we had heard. Two days earlier this had not existed, now it was here and it was ours forever. My mother, clearly moved by what she had just heard, said, "my god, it's like you've just given birth to a baby". I suppose we had. 

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A Look Back At…The Trinity Session (history – part 2 of 3)

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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(I'll be posting a series of blogs over the coming days all about the making of The Trinity Session. Check out our Facebook page to see rare photos and anecdotes from me and Margo.)

songs 
We worked on the songs for our next album all through that summer. I had been inspired by the music that we had been listening to and began to write lyrics again for the first time in six years. Margo was also bitten by the bug and began to come to rehearsal with some lyrical ideas. As the songs began to take shape so did the overall form of the album. Not only were a lot of the songs reflecting our new found love of country and our experiences of the past year, but also each song seemed to be taking on classic American songwriting themes. 

Misguided Angel was in the vein of the classic good girl meets bad boy scenario, 200 More Miles was our wistful "on the road" song, To Love Is To Bury was along the lines of those traditional black country ballads sung so powerfully by the Louvin Brothers and their peers. As these originals began to take shape we started to think about what songs we should attempt to interpret to compliment them. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry was obvious. Hank Williams is one of the great American songwriters and this song in particular ranks as one of his best – simple, precise and sharp as a blade. We had to do a song from the Patsy Cline cannon. She had smoothed over so many pot hole filled miles during the previous year. We had seen Dwight Yokum performWalking After Midnight in Tulsa and so we thought we'd put our hand to it. We liked the fact that there might be something a little sinister lurking in the shadows. Dreaming My Dreams With You was chosen because it is also another beautiful, slow country ballad, but we also wanted to tip our hats to Waylon Jennings whose attitude and swagger was so much more Rock n Roll than most of the pretenders out there. Working on A Building is a traditional gospel song, but we were introduced to it by The Carter Family. Choosing this song was nod at the rich gospel roots that infuse country music. Mining For Gold, another traditional song, was chosen by Margo to do as an a cappella, another stylistic nod to the roots of country music. 

Into this mix we decided to throw a few non country-influenced originals and covers. The intention was not to make a country album, but an album that dealt, loosely, with the great songwriting traditions, styles and themes that had crept into rock music over the past three decades. So we added a few more originals, I Don't Get It andPostcard Blues, which harkened back to the more Blues influenced material on Whites Off Earth Now!! and added two more covers. Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis)killed two birds with one stone. It is partly an acknowledgment of the great song writing days of Tin Pan Alley and the great songwriting teams of the era of which Rogers and Hart, who wrote Blue Moon, was one. And it is also our acknowledgment of Elvis Presley who stands alone as a rock music pioneer. Our version of Blue Moon relies heavily on Elvis's interpretation which he recorded for Sun records. 

The last piece to this very abstract puzzle was Sweet Jane. The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed embody what we feel rock music should be about – slightly out of step, intelligent, groove orientated and original. They have to be listed as one of the great rock bands ever and Sweet Jane, for better or worse, is one of their most recognized songs. It was and still is the backbone of cover bands all across America. It has been pitilessly slaughtered countless times on countless nights on countless stages around the world. We thought, "lets take it and see if we can breathe new life into this tired old work horse ". We got our inspiration from The Velvets live album entitled 1969. To be honest it is one of our straighter covers, we didn't change it a whole lot. Originally we had tried to record it for the Whites album, but we never got the right feel. For this collection of songs we choseSweet Jane as being "our song- this is what we listened to growing up, this is where our musical tastes come from". 

musicians 
Once we felt that we had the material ready we began to think in terms of how we wanted to arrange it and with what instruments. We had been discussing using more traditional country instruments for this album, but the trick was to find the players. We were pretty firmly located in the Alternative scene in Toronto, it' was not like there were a plethora of accordion players to choose from. So we began our search and one player lead us to the next until we had gathered together a loose mish-mash of instrumentation and musicians from throughout Ontario. Some had met before, a couple had even played briefly with each other, but all were a little curious and probably more than a little suspicious of this band from Toronto with the weird name who had called them to come play on their album. 

On pedal steel we found Kim Deschamps. Kim had interviewed me for a CBC radio show the previous year after the release of Whites. He had expressed interest in the music and had mentioned that if we ever needed a pedal steel player that we should give him a call. Hiring a pedal steel player was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, but I took his number. Kim also brought his dobro and lap steel along and his years of experience gigging around Ontario with dozens of country, rock and folk bands. We found our accordion player in Sudbury, Ontario through a recommendation from Kim. Jaro Czerwinec was one of the most eccentric characters that we had run into or have yet to run into, but also is one of the most soulful musicians we have ever had the pleasure of playing with. When we first contacted him he was gigging with legendary Canadian folk icon Daisy DeBolt and also with his home town Ukrainian folk troupe the Black Sea Cossacks. We also had the good luck to stumble into Jeff Bird. Jeff has since established a special relationship with the band appearing on all of our albums since Trinity and joining us on all of our tours. He is one of those gifted musicians who can pick up almost any instrument and caress, coax, squeeze, suck or wrench a sound out of it that seems to fit with whatever other music is going on. We initially called Jeff to play fiddle (an instrument he has had a love/hate relationship with over the years)on the session, but he also brought along his harmonicas and mandolin (one of his favourite instruments). Rounding out the compliment of musicians was Steve Shearer on blues harp and older brother John on guitar. We had met Steve at our very first gig where he had come backstage and introduced himself as, "Honky White Trash – a harmonica player". He said he had come to the gig because he was intrigued by the bands name. We in turn were intrigued by his name and kept in touch. Brother John had left the band in its early incarnation, but we all still had a yearning to do some recording together. I always loved the way he played guitar and we knew that the shared gene pool would allow him to harmonize perfectly with Margo on Misguided Angel. 

recording 

In the days leading up to the recording most of the rehearsing was done on cassette and over the phone. We didn't have the money to bring everyone into Toronto for full blown rehearsals so we sent them each tapes of our rehearsals and the songs that we wanted them to play on accompanied by some sketchy notes. We were able to get Kim and Jeff to a couple of rehearsals and Kim even sat in on a few shows with us. Steve was living in Toronto at the time (the only one who was) so we were able to work and gig a bit more with him. We never even layed eyes on Jaro until he walked into Trinity church the day of the recording and we felt that our playing days with John would see him through. Basically we were depending on each of their musical skills and instincts and their collective experience gigging as professional musicians. 

At the same time that we were getting the material and musicians together we were putting our heads together with Peter Moore about how we wanted to approach our next recording. We were all in agreement that we wanted to use the same recording technique that we had used for Whites. That is one microphone, 2 track, live off the floor. We had all loved the results that we had got with the first album and we saw no reason to change. It also helped that our financial situation hadn't changed much either. Paying for decent studio time was still well out of reach. The question was where to do this recording. Since recording Whites Peter had been doing a lot of one mic recording and experimenting with a few different rooms around the city. His favourite was The Church of the Holy Trinity. 

Trinity church is a small historic church located in downtown Toronto in amongst the sprawl that is the Eaton Center. If not for the fact that the church was designated an historic landmark it would have been torn down years ago to make room for another clothing store. But it remains, cloaked in the shadow of one of the largest indoor malls in Canada. Peter had been using the church to record some symphony sessions and some small jazz band sessions and had liked the acoustics of the hall. He hadn't had an electric bass in the place or tried to record a voice in there, but he felt it was worth a shot. He thought that if it worked the natural reverb of the hall wrapped around our sound might make for an interesting aural experience. 

Another problem that he faced was the added instrumentation that we wanted to record. It was one thing to record a four piece band gathered around a single mic, but to gather nine musicians around one mic and have the resulting recording sound properly balanced was another thing all together. Added to this problem was that Peter felt that it might be difficult to get the church to agree to rent it to a group called Cowboy Junkies. It was one thing to rent the church to a symphony or a jazz trio it was another to rent it to an obviously crazed bunch of rock musicians. The first problem we solved by he and I sitting for hours and scrupulously sketching out on paper what was going to happen musically with each song. That way Peter had a good idea of what instrument would be playing when and he could then place that musician in relation to the other musicians so that the sound of one instrument would not step on another. These sketches would of course evolve as the session progressed and as each musician brought there own ideas and the particular ideas grew, but at least he had a starting point. The other problem was solved by Peter telling the church officials that the band's name was The Timmins Family Singers and we were recording a few numbers for a CBC radio Christmas special. So armed with our new moniker, an arm full of loosely sketched ideas on paper, minds full of half baked ideas and a van full of musical instruments, we entered The Church of the Holy Trinity on the morning of November 27, 1987. 

(coming next: November 27, 1987 and epilogue)

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Under Cover (November 2014) – Cortez The Killer and Wonderin’

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

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This is part two of our newly launched Under Cover feature. Every month we be offer free downloads of two cover songs: one recorded by Cowboy Junkies and another recorded by a Latent artist. We are running this feature off of the Latent Recordings Facebook page. All you need to do is go to the page, click the Under Cover link and follow the prompts.

We recorded Cortez The Killer during the Early 21st Century Blues sessions. It fit in well with the album themes of war, violence, fear and greed that we were exploring on that album. It never made the final cut but, we always liked that it had the appropriate looseness that a song like this deserves. The guitars don't quite match up to Neil's and Pancho's, but brother John and I gave it the old college try and we had fun doing it…it was like we were back in our basement in Montreal playing air guitar as Zuma spun on the turntable. 

Jerry Leger and his band came in to The Hangar to record a few cover songs a couple of months ago. They have a hundred of them in their repetoire…literally. Wonderin is an obscure Neil song off of the Shocking Pinks rock n roll album that he released as a "fuck you" to Geffen Records back in the 80's. It's a great band doing a great version of a rarely covered song. I think that it sounds like an outake from Workingman's Dead…there is a great loping feel to it. this is what Jerry says about the song, "Wonderin' is just a good old fashioned rock 'n' roll song. It's hard to write one of those and make it work and I think Neil Young pulled it off even though it's a bit of a hidden tune. The chorus has fantastic lyrical rhythm and the song opens with a good line, "Been walking all night long, my footsteps made me crazy". 

If you don't have Jerry's latest release, Early Riser, please check it out and take a listen…I had the pleasure of producing it, it's a terrific album.

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A Look Back At….The Trinity Session (history – part 1 of 3)

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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(I'll be posting a series of blogs over the coming days all about the making of The Trinity Session. Check out our Facebook page to see rare photos and anecdotes from me and Margo.)

evolution/inspiration 

We had spent the past year touring Whites Off Earth Now!!around Canada and the United States, grabbing gigs wherever and whenever they were offered. We had sold an incredible (by the Canadian indy standards of the time) 3,000 copies of Whites and had taken the little money that we had made from touring and placed it all back in the band. With a pocketful of change and the inspiration from our travels we began to conceptualize our next recording. 

While touring Whites we had spent a lot of time in the Southern States, especially Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. For some reason the club owners down there took a liking to what we were doing so we spent a lot of time crossing the kudzu choked highways that ran through the heart of the old Confederacy. Those were the days when having to spend a night in a hotel room would mean the difference between eating the next day or paying for the gas to get us to the next town, so we spent a lot of our time sleeping on the floors of friendly promoters, fans, waitresses and bartenders. One of the best part about being "billeted" was that each night we were exposed to a new record collection and each night we'd discover a new album or a new band or a whole new type of music that was springing up in some buried underground scene somewhere in America. 

A style of music that we were heavily exposed to at that time was country music. It wasn't like everyone we ran into was a country music freak, but growing up in the South, most people had been exposed to a lot more of it than we had growing up in suburban Montreal. There would inevitably be in every collection one or two great country music records that had been lifted from their parents as they moved out. Sitting there between the latest Death Piggy single and Coltrane's Giant Steps would be something like Waylon Jennings' Honky Tonk Heroes, or Patsy Cline'sGreatest Hits, The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, Bill Munroe, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the list goes on. We drank it up. On one of these trips we passed through Washington DC, specifically to go to the Smithsonian Institute shop to buy their Collection of Classic Country Music. Those tapes were rarely out of our vans tape deck and when they were we were scanning the radio in hopes of tuning in some local station playing some scratchy old Lorretta Lynn record. Also at this time Steve Earl and Dwight Yokum had arrived on the country scene and were taking this classic music that we were falling in love with and infusing it with new life and making it seem relevant and modern. 

So when we finally got home and began to think about our next album we not only had a whole new set of experiences set in a very foreign landscape to draw from, but also a whole new musical influence and style to draw upon. We were now thinking in terms of songs about peoples lives and the places where they lived. Into this mix we decided to throw a few non country-influenced originals and covers. The intention was not to make a country album, but an album that dealt, loosely, with the great songwriting traditions, styles and themes that had crept into rock music over the past three decades. So we added a few more originals, I Don't Get It and Postcard Blues, which harkened back to the more Blues influenced material on Whites Off Earth Now!! and added two more covers. Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis) killed two birds with one stone. It is partly an acknowledgment of the great song writing days of Tin Pan Alley and the great songwriting teams of the era of which Rogers and Hart, who wrote Blue Moon, was one. And it is also our acknowledgment of Elvis Presley who stands alone as a rock music pioneer. Our version of Blue Moon relies heavily on Elvis's interpretation which he recorded for Sun records. 

The last piece to this very abstract puzzle was Sweet Jane. The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed embody what we feel rock music should be about – slightly out of step, intelligent, groove orientated and original. They have to be listed as one of the great rock bands ever and Sweet Jane, for better or worse, is one of their most recognized songs. It was and still is the backbone of cover bands all across America. It has been pitilessly slaughtered countless times on countless nights on countless stages around the world. We thought, "lets take it and see if we can breathe new life into this tired old work horse ". We got our inspiration from The Velvets live album entitled 1969. To be honest it is one of our straighter covers, we didn't change it a whole lot. Originally we had tried to record it for the Whites album, but we never got the right feel. For this collection of songs we chose Sweet Jane as being "our song- this is what we listened to growing up, this is where our musical tastes come from". 

I think the song on Trinity which best sums up that period for the band, the song which defines that time is 200 More Miles. It is about the wanderlust that infected us all during that year. When I listen to it I am placed right back in the van, just the four of us, it is well after midnight, Pete and Marg are asleep in the back seat, I'm behind the wheel and Al is beside me in charge of keeping me awake, neither of us saying a word, alone with our thoughts, nobody on the road but us and the long haul truckers, and the music we are listening to is so piercingly beautiful. 

(coming next: songs and musicians and recording)

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Under Cover (October 2014) – Thunder Road and Only A Broken Heart

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

This month we are starting a new monthly feature called Under Cover. Every month we'll be offering free downloads of two cover songs: one recorded by Cowboy Junkies and another recorded by a Latent artist. We are running this feature off of the Latent Recordings Facebook page. All you need to do is go to the page, click the Under Cover link and follow the prompts. 

This month the two songs are Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road (covered by Cowboy Junkies) and Tom Petty's Only A Broken Heart (covered by Ivy Mairi). They aren't often in the conversation when people talk of the roots of Americana music but Springsteen and Petty, by all rights, should be considered the godfathers of the movement. I would bet that every young (and not so young) so-called Americana band has a Springsteen or Petty song in their repetoire and more than a couple of their albums in their music collections. Springsteen has always been a touch stone for us (we covered State Troper on our first album). I still think that the opening couple of verses to Thunder Road are among the best in rock n roll.
 
Ivy says this about her Tom Petty cover…."Matt Bailey (who plays electric guitar on this recording) leant me a couple of Tom Petty albums a couple of years ago, one of which was Wildflowers. Definitely one of my favourite Petty albums. Only a Broken Heart seems to have been a bit overlooked over the years – a lot of people are surprised that it's by Tom Petty when they hear me play it. The lyrics are so sad, doubtful, and beautiful. Making music with Noah Reid (who sings on the track) is a real pleasure – his singing is so effortless and natural. "
 
If you like what you here from Ivy you should check out her website . She has two beautiful albums out on Latent and she has just self released her third album Nonbeliever which is now also available through her website.
 
Click here and follow the Under Cover prompts for the two songs…they are free…Bono says so….
 
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A Look Back At…..At The End Of Paths Taken (review)

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Over the coming many months we will occasionaly be dedicating a month to celebrate and look back at one of our albums. This month we are spotlighting At The End Of Paths Taken. Make sure that you check out our Facebook page for more photos related to the making of the album.

This review was written by Dave Bowler when Paths Taken was released back in 2007. Dave is writing a bio of our studio albums and we feel that he has a pretty good grasp of our ouvre (so to speak)…

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COWBOY JUNKIES – AT THE END OF PATHS TAKEN

More than twenty years in to a career, there aren’t many artists that are going anyplace. You are what you are what you are. You buy a book, watch a movie, hear a record by somebody who’s been at that that long, you’re putting on familiar shoes. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that either, a little security in a fast changing world.

And yet and yet.

Creation is all about change. You want to keep creating, you gotta keep changing, that was Miles’ philosophy, and pretty well every time you got a new Davis disc, you got a charge of electricity that raced up the spine and knocked your wig off, for good or bad. Not many of those guys about.

You find another one, you better relish that, better cherish it, because those are the artists that are worth having around your house, in your ears, taking space in your head. They’re the ones that are going to wake you up, challenge you, maybe tell you something instead of reinforcing what you already think you know, better yet, make you ask yourself some questions, or help you strip away some dirt from the answers that were there all the time.

You probably think you know what the new Cowboy Junkies record sounds like. You don’t. Yes, the trademarks are there. How could it be otherwise after two decades? But they’re all twisted, re-evaluated, renewed. Songs no longer draw life from the understated, almost unheard pulse of Alan Anton’s bassline, a sound that now propels undulating melodies on “Mountain” or “My Little Basquiat”. Anton almost switches places with Margo Timmins, still the most arresting voice in the game, yet buried deeper inside these songs, songs which create a surround sound universe of their own, be it from plaintive acoustics like “Someday Soon” or the kitchen sink overload of “Mountain”, where all hell breaks loose. Tomorrow never knew.

There are changes here that Junkies purists may baulk at. Drummer Pete Timmins is no longer the easygoing engine. Instead he’s embraced edgy percussion, thoughtful rhythms that knock you off kilter, make you listen more carefully. There’s nothing obvious, or easy going on here. Outside studiophile / musician Joby Baker has added a mesh of instrumentation and sounds that take this record a long way from the skeletal nature of “Whites Off Earth Now!!” Strings play a heavy, dramatic role on several songs. And drama is the keynote in a record which you could loosely call a concept album if the term didn’t bring to mind visions of hobbits, pinball players and wizards on ice.

Yet this is a concept record of sorts. A concept record for grown ups. Like his colleagues, songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins has dispensed with standbys and certainties, thrown everything in the air, and begun to rework his craft. Echoing the pacifist sentiment that was the core of their last effort, the quickly recorded “Early 21st Century Blues”, “At The End Of Paths Taken” muses on a particular theme, that of family, the way patterns are repeated from father to son to son and back again, the way the greatest joys bring with them the heaviest burdens, the way the outside world can devastate the closest familial relationship, and the way in which we are all helpless to do anything about it. It’s a record that continues to work through themes of war and peace, a hangover from “Early 21st Century Blues”, looking at how the macro can militate against the micro. It’s a record that looks at the biggest betrayal, the one none of us can avoid, the betrayal of mortality. It’s a record that’s simultaneously about surrender, about giving oneself up to the journey while raging against the pain that creates. That duality, that life is hard, confusing, painful, but still the best thing we’ve managed to come up with so far has long been a core Junkies theme, but on this record, it’s been honed to perfection.

Where Michael Timmins was a short-story writer in song, on this album, he’s a spare, sparse poet, betraying a distinct e.e.cummings influence in lyrics that are impressionistic yet cutting, forensic but embracing, emotional but without a trace of sentimentality. The first track, “Brand New World”, sets the tone, Margo Timmins intoning the list of cares that 40somethings carry about their neck, day after day, “Mouths to feed, Shoes to buy, Rent to pay, Tears to dry”.

The first half of the record covers the darkest fears, that we won’t be up to the job as parents, that we will fail our children or that someone, somewhere will fail all our children, that a madman in the White House could blow us all apart, that a nutcase with a suitcase could take everything down with him. There’s the wonder of fatherhood on the loping, grooving, vaguely sinister “My Little Basquiat”, counterbalanced by the fear of what the world is going to do to those kids when you’re not around to stop it.

Having introduced listeners to new soundscapes, dissonant sounds, powerful emotional terrain, the second half of the record builds and builds, increasingly personal, intimate but wholly identifiable. “Follower2” is a centrepiece, tracing the evolution from father to son, to son becoming father, scraps from Michael’s childhood, inklings from his future, one relationship becoming the other. “I can’t bear to hear his breathing, simply knowing what’s to come”. Is that the breath of a dying father, or a sleeping son, a life full of trials behind or before him? The closing, “Here you will always be, behind me, and you will not go away. Here I will always be, behind you, and I will never go away” is a perfect summation of the handing down of the generations, something picked up on again in “Mountain”, something they used to call a sound collage, mixing the Timmins’ father reading from his memoirs, all kinds of studio samples and sounds, wrenching strings, Margo Timmins wailing “How’d this mountain get so high?” into the abyss. If they hadn’t already come up with the phrase “sensory overload”, you’d have to invent it for this.

But there’s still a peak to come, “My Only Guarantee”. It’s the final twist of the knife, but to say more would be like telling you whodunnit before you started reading a mystery novel. Get the record, set an hour aside, put the headphones on and listen. Really listen. Because the only reference point I can give you to a record this complex, this intriguing, this overloaded with sounds, yet so simple, is one that came out 34 years ago. The effects, the sounds, the overwhelming scale are obvious comparisons, but that’s too facile.

The common ground is that “At The End Of Paths Taken” is a record that somebody needed to make, one that you have to live with from start to finish, one that unfolds, washes over you. It’s a statement of humanity in a dehumanising time, in a time where you’re only supposed to feel what Oprah tells you to feel.

“At The End Of Paths Taken” is a record for those of us who know we don’t know. Take the journey. We’ll meet you on the dark side of the moon.

Recording at Margo's Farm, June 2006 061  

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A Look Back At…..At The End Of Paths Taken (released 2007)

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

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In the Fall of 2005 I rented a small house in the Horseshoe Valley (about one hour North of Toronto) a tiny little cottage on a beautiful piece of land that backed on to 40 acres of woods. Running through the woods was a stream that was still used by salmon during the autumn spawning season. I called the house 48 Mill Pond Rd. This is where I escaped to work on the songs that would eventually become At The End Of Paths Taken.

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I rarely sit down with the objective of writing a set of songs based on a single theme. Usually the theme or themes suggest themselves as the songs are developed. But for this album I set out to write an album that dealt with “family” and all of the complex relationships that are suggested by the word. Those relationships and how they continue to echo down through generations is something that, as a parent of three young children and as a son of aging parents, had been playing/preying on my mind for the previous few years. As the writing progressed, the songs began to pull in more complex directions. “Family” remained a dominant theme but events of the larger world and how those events, subtly and not so subtly, influence the “family” relationship began to creep in to the songs. It was like the themes that we explored on “Early 21st Century Blues” (violence, fear, greed, war, loss) had not been fully exorcised and were insinuating themselves in to these very intimate songs about the dynamics of personal family relationships. I’m not sure if it is my age or the age we live in, most likely its a combination of the two, but the songs began to hint at themes of inevitability, finality, not exactly predetermination, but a sense of running out of choices, a sense of being at the end of paths taken.

When I brought the songs home from 48 Mill Pond Rd. it was time for us, as a band, to start to develop them. Some made their way to Margo’s Farm where we moved our studio and did an intensive two week session to kick start the project; some ended up in Victoria, BC where Joby Baker added a handful of magic touches; some were completely reworked using bass-lines supplied by Alan; and then there were the strings supplied by Henry Kucharzyk. Here are some of the songs in their various states of being, listen as the songs meander down their separate paths..

48 Mill Pond, Oct to Dec 2005 005
 

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Ontario Summer Tour

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

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We hope our friends to the South had a fun time yesterday celebrating the 4th. We spent it across the river, in Windsor, having a rockin' night performing at the downtown Court and Fork festival. Thank you to all of you who came out and cheered us on.

We have a series of shows throughout cottage country in Ontario this summer. They are in an area of the province that I would probably rank as being one of the top ten places on Earth to spend time in the Summer months. If you've never been to the area and are looking for a Summer road trip that includes a few Cowboy Junkies concerts, then look no further. I promise that you wont be dissapointed…this is a very special place.

Take a look at the tour page to check out the dates and ticket info and then start planning your trip….I'll be the one with the fishin rod. We hope to see you soon.

World Cup update….terrific awesomeness.

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Where were you when The Kennedy Suite was staged? – Part VII

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Over the next few weeks we'll present a series of 14 short videos inspired by the TKS stage show and album of songs composed by Scott Garbe and produced by Mike Timmins and Cowboy Junkies.

VIDEO: If you were there in the room you'll recall this extraordinary performance by Cowboy Junkies — replete with haunting vocal by Margo Timmins channelling the narrative perspective of Jacky Kennedy…

View this and others at vimeo.com/thekennedysuite

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Where were you when The Kennedy Suite was staged? – part VI

Friday, May 30th, 2014

The Kennedy Suite continues to unfold. Check out LeE HARVeY OsMOND's performance of "Parkland" featuring the men from Cowboy Junkies.
 

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