Michael Timmins, guitarist and songwriter for Cowboy Junkies, spoke with me on the phone from his hotel room in Kansas City. The connection from the receptionist’s line was horrible, but his hotel room had a nice crisp tone to it, a sound you should all hear! Call the hotel at 816-931-4400. Another crisp thing you should hear is the new release by the Cowboy Junkies, Rarities, B-Sides, and Slow, Sad Waltzes .
The collection of cuts on the new release were all recorded over the past several years and never released on a full album before. Half of ‘em never escaped the band’s rehearsal studio ‘til now. It’s a dope sound. Don’t be thinking it’ll bring you down – as the title might imply, this is a colorful mixed bag of songs.
For some odd reason, the Cowboy Junkies have been branded as being a “mellow” group, the “Goths of the Canadian border patrol,” or just simply, gloriously depressed. I wouldn’t say that’s true, and neither does Timmins. “The true Cowboy Junkies fans don’t think of us that way,” he says. “I think that on some of the songs, there’s a melancholy, but when you play music that is slow, people are going to say it is sad and lonely…it is laziness really.” And it is, ‘cause although the band can really CHILL things way out, they also know how to pick it up! “I think part of it is Margo’s voice – it has a quiet side to it…” but she can also spit fire and steaming whiskey when the time is right. The band’s work on Rarities is an intricately layered collection of gorgeous sounds – some sad and some happy, some slow and mellow, and some rock on. And as a whole, it has a classic feel.
The band on stage also has a reputation for being mighty serene as well, and folks who dig their previous work will be happy to know they still play some cuts from The Trinity Sessions . “It’s not unusual for people to pitch a particular album and use that as the standard to judge from,” Timmins explained. But DAMN, that record came out twelve years ago, and it is still, perhaps, their most talked about and played release. Is the band a little pissed that this album is still so heralded when they’ve released eight other albums in addition? “No, we’d never be upset that one album does better than the rest…you’d be crazy to be upset about that.” Something about The Trinity Sessions just grips the listener with a diverse range of sound and emotion, making her or him succumb to the CJs. If you’ve ever listened to it, you’d know, ‘cause it’s an album you never forget.
But we’re not talking about the past, we’re looking at what’s happening NOW for Cowboy Junkies. The “Winter Waltz Tour” is hopping along, and in addition to recent Florida and Georgia shows, they’ll be covering oodles of spots in-between from their home base in Toronto.
Although it’s their most recent release to date, Rarities has a very classic, antiquated feel to it. To start, there’s the album’s design. If I was a decent writer, I would have asked Michael if he laments the “death” of vinyl, but I forgot – a feature which separates professionals from lowly scrub journalists like myself. I’d imagine that he does miss records, as the CD packaging for the new release has a “VINYL” look to it, with a worn sepia-shot of the band in a cafe and EP-styled typeset. On the front and back cover is a “mold” ring from where the record’s been pressed against the jacket from years of wear. It’s retro chic, baby!
The music within definitely has a classic sound as well. This is another trademark of the band – their traditional mix of everything from blues and country to rock and folk reads like the soundtrack to a Steinbeck novel. They have so much energy, spirit, color, and passion in their work it never shines dull from the slow sad tunes to the uppity two steps.
One thing that is definitely NOT an antique twist is the fact that Rarities was released on the Internet. It sold [exclusively] online from June to October, and was then made available in stores. The Junkies did this more as a way to get the word out on the release before their summer tour sprung, and to allow their independent label, Latent Records, to get the first stab at sales. “E-Commerce is not what everyone expects it to be… at least for a band like us. We still needed to promote it more to sell online, but it was definitely not bad.”
Two sites were selling the release, Amazon.com and their own sparkling Web site. http://www.cowboyjunkies.com/ is not only an informative FAQ for the band and list of happenings (including the usual info, dates, discography, and great histories), it also has an extensive collection of diaries and photos updated daily from the road.
“I do all the writing and send in photos to a developer every day. We’re keeping it a band thing as much as possible, and we really like it. We’re proud of it. We’ll always be developing it… that is part of the medium, it is just insatiable… it keeps going. Soon, we’ll develop a true e-commerce store, and we’ll have downloads available and we’ll even do some webcasts, which we’re setting up right now.”
The site warrants a visit, it’s an emotional embarkation online, and one that really rocks. There’s something very intriguing and invitingly friendly about the way it’s run, allowing the viewer to drop in on the band through good times and bad, shows, rehearsals, interviews, snow storms, and monster APPLE PIES. And the pictures document it all – including the 11-pound pie! “Oh, that’s from Skippy. He’s been coming to our shows for a while, and he always gives us an apple pie!”
The only thing about the CJs that doesn’t seem wholesome to me is their choice of venue for their Florida show: THE HOUSE OF BLUES at Disney’s Boardwalk. I hate to slam someone for doing it, but why them? Reverend Horton Heat will be there the week after, and that bastard is due for confession as well. I remember a time when the insidious Disney did not have the BOARDWALK, with its “gourmet” restaurants and genetically altered test tube clubs. There were other clubs and old theaters to play. The House of Blues’ mega franchise must be hurting some of the smaller venues out there. “Well, where should we play?” Timmins barked. “They offered the money. Really, they offered the money and the House of Blues is a nice club – they’re clean and have great sound and everything… Lots of small clubs are really shitty and they smell like beer and the sound sucks and the backstage is just HELL. I don’t feel bad if a corporate club puts those places out of business. But a good club – if you’re offering quality, generally you’ll survive. It is hard to say who is and who isn’t Corporate these days…but just because they’re CORPORATE, why shouldn’t they survive too?”
Well, whether the venue sucks or not, the Cowboy Junkies will be sure to bring some natural Earthy ambiance of positive measures. No one in town should miss their show, as it will be a rarity to get a taste of their sweet sounds for a while. It’ll be a relaxing time, but you shouldn’t be afraid to wear your dancin’ shoes!