Cowboy Junkies – Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA – April 9, 2022
Almost 35 years on from their breakthrough 1988 album The Trinity Sessions – and closer to 40 years since this family act formed in Canada – Cowboy Junkies’ sound is still unique. The mixture of old-school country lament, morose lyrics and Margo Timmins’ ethereal vocals has always given the band a hushed, devastating and haunted resonance. (Imagine an Edward Hopper painting of a lonely honky tonk, and you’ll have an idea of what the band sounds like.) It is no surprise that the band became one of the shining lights of 1980s and 1990s alt-country.
The band’s repertoire has always been a smart mixture of brother Michael Timmins’ devastated heartbreak tunes (Margo good naturedly acknowledged on stage that most of their songs could be classified as “depressing”) and reinvented takes on classic (and more obscure) tunes by a widely varied series of respected outside acts.
This tour is mostly to promote their latest all-covers album Songs of the Recollection. Due to COVID cutting off touring they also did live performances of some songs from their 2020 album Ghosts, which was made up of original material written as a tribute to the Timmins’ late mother and released and recorded during the pandemic. (Other than singer Margo and guitarist Michael, the band is made up of brother Peter Timmins on drums, cousin Alan Anton on bass and family friend Jeff Bird on mandolin and harmonica.)
From the opening words “Fear is not so far from hate” from the song “The Things We Do To Each Other” (from the 2018 album All That Reckoning), the Junkies had the audience rapt, hanging on every syllable, on every mournful pedal steel, on every somber harmonica line.
The band pulled out the big guns early, playing arguably their best-known song – their wistful reimagining of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” – second in the set. (Late songwriter Lou Reed often said that Cowboy Junkies’ version was his favorite take of the oft-recorded song – including the two versions he put out with the Velvets and solo.)
That was the first of several quirky covers played throughout the set, gorgeous interpretations of songs including The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” and Vic Chestnutt’s “Supernatural.”
Fitting in comfortably with these songs were the Junkies’ stellar originals. I was particularly excited that they played the devastating ballad “’Cause Cheap is How I Feel” (from their 1990 album The Caution Horses), a truly shattering look at toxic heartbreak loneliness. They also did a gorgeous version of “Black Eyed Man” (from the 1992 album of the same name). And Timmins dedicated two songs from Ghosts (“Desire Lines” and “[You Don’t Get to] Do It Again”) to their mother, who died in 2018.
They closed the second set with another tribute – this time to a musical influence – with a haunting take on “Blue Moon Revisited (A Song for Elvis).” “Blue Moon Revisited” is an original tune with elements from the musical standard “Blue Moon” mixed in, including fusing the first two verses of that song towards the end of the Junkies’ tune.
The show was closed out with stellar encore versions of David Bowie’s “Five Years” and Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight.”
If I have one slight complaint, it’s that they did not perform what may be their most gorgeous (and devastating) song, the 1988 single “Misguided Angel.” I’ve seen the band four times since 1993 (once a decade, by coincidence) and they have never skipped over that song before. And, according to setlist.fm, they performed it the night before (in Homer, NY) and the night after I saw them (in Alexandria, VA). So, I guess it’s just my bad luck that it got skipped over this night. Then again, they did not do other early classics “’Cause Cheap is How I Feel” or “Blue Moon Revisited” at either of those shows, so I can’t complain too much.
Then again, perhaps a little disappointment is inevitable in life – which is a theme that the band returns to often. However, when you see a band so on top of its game and so unique, they will be very little disappointment in your life.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 13, 2022.
Photos by Jim Rinaldi © 2022