Saturday, June 9, 2007
Doors at 8pm; Show at 9pm
Tickets $40. General Admission Seating SOLD OUT!!
STANDING ROOM ONLY TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE $30
Brought to you by Kirschner Concerts, The Bearsville Theater and WDST
Despite its title, the new Cowboy Junkies album, At the End of Paths Taken, is as much about new beginnings as it is about endings. It is also about human connections, the struggle to sustain those connections over time, and the complexities that can arise even when those connections are maintained. It is, in other words, a classic Cowboy Junkies album – a suite of smart, richly textured songs that value subtlety over broad, generic strokes, songs that prize insight and casual revelations over easily digestible clichés.
Family lies at the heart of the album’s eleven songs, and, of course, that is appropriate, too. Three of the band’s members – singer Margo Timmins; songwriter, producer and guitarist Michael Timmins; and drummer Peter Timmins – are siblings, and bassist Alan Anton has been a member since the group formed in Toronto in 1985. Few bands have lasted nearly as long with their original line-up intact, and fewer still have created as consistently satisfying a body of work. Albums like The Trinity Session (1988), Black Eyed Man (1992), Miles From Our Home (1988) and Early 21st Century Blues (2005), to isolate just a few high points, chronicle a creative journey that is impervious to trends. Each of those albums sounds as fresh and current today as when it was made. You don’t stay together and produce work of that quality and depth without learning something about family and permanence – what lasts, what doesn’t, perhaps even what shouldn’t.
But if their history is an important part of what led the band to At the End of Paths Taken, other factors entered in as well. “My idea was to write an album about families, about how generations affect generations, how there’s a continuum,” Michael says. “I’m the father of three young kids, and I’ve got aging parents, so that’s obviously a big part of my life. But I found that what was going on in the outside world was affecting my writing. These times are extremely trying. What sort of world is being set up for my kids? All of that began to brew together.”
The result is an album that takes family as a starting point, but goes on to look at the vast range of people’s responsibilities to and for each other. “Songs like ‘Still Lost’ and ‘Blue Eyed Saviour’ are ultimately about any parent and their kids, about sending them out into the world and having no clue where that journey will take them,” Michael says. On “Mountain,” Margo’s vocal interweaves with a recording of their father, a successful aviation salesman, reading a passage about their family from a book he recently completed about his life.
“I heard a voice in the back of my head, and I told Mike that I wanted to try something,” Margo recalls. “I wanted to just talk the song, to speak it. Then Mike suggested, ‘What about dad reading his book?’ It was perfect. Because it’s me and my father, our voices blend really well.” “It fit so much into the concept of the album, it was freaky,” Michael adds.
Evocative string arrangements by the Canadian composer Henry Kucharzyk lend songs like “Brand New World” and “Spiral Down” both a sense of beauty and an unsettling feeling of apprehension. “Henry and I have wanted to work together for years,” Michael says. “He did a great job at combining melody, rhythm and a touch of harmonic tension in the arrangements.” The album’s closing track, “My Only Guarantee,” nods to Philip Larkin’s famous poem about family, “This Be the Verse,” which opens with the lines, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do.” Like the poem, the song takes a sardonic – and, finally, somehow accepting – view of the damage that parents inevitably inflict on their children. “My only guarantee,” the song concludes, “I will fuck you up.”
In a departure from the way they typically work, Michael gave Margo sets of lyrics with no melodies when they began working on At the End of Paths Taken. “It was like a book of poems – no music,” she says. “Every night I would read them, and I got really familiar with them. So when the music was given to me, I had my own interpretation. I do my best singing when, as I like to say, ‘I can sing with my eyes closed’ – when the song is inside of me. I had wrestled with these so much, they were already my songs.”
In part, that’s because At the End of Paths Taken tells the story of the band. “To me, this album is looking at who we are right at this second, right now,” Margo says. “At our ages, with our work, as parents of young children. It’s all the paths I’ve taken to this point — to who I am.”
One milestone on the Cowboy Junkies’ trip, of course, is The Trinity Session, the album, recorded in one memorable day, which first brought the band international recognition. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of that day in the studio, and to commemorate it, the band returned to the Toronto church where the album was recorded and performed new versions of its songs with the help of Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt.
“We all got together the night before, and the next day we just played and filmed,” Michael says. “Ryan, Natalie and Vic told us about how the album had affected them, and they were really into it. It turned out to be exactly what we wanted. We sat in a circle and forgot the cameras were there. It was like the day we originally recorded it – a really intense musical experience.”
Both The Trinity Session and At the End of Paths Taken – and, really, all the music the band has made over the years — reflect the independent road that Cowboy Junkies have always elected to travel. “To express what we want to express – that’s why we do it,” Michael says, while pointing out that the band’s sense of conviction is as strong as ever. “It’s a bigger commitment now. It’s got to be important.”
Margo agrees.“One of the things we’ve done that has never changed,” she says, “is we’ve always made music the way it felt good to us. We never wondered, ‘How will this be received?’ or ‘Is this what’s happening?’ We’ve changed as musicians, but we never changed our attitude and approach. The music has continued to satisfy all of us. That’s why we’re still together.”