Review: Cowboy Junkies give new look at improving range at The Egg

Saturday, March 2, 2013
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— After playing almost every area venue, most recently Revolution Hall and the Empire State Plaza, Canada’s quiet Cowboy Junkies found a perfect home at The Egg for their elegant, electric chamber folk, and everything else they played on a beautifully noisy Saturday night.

While Cowboy Junkies dream-rocked The Egg’s (larger) Hart Theater, Enter the Haggis rocked The Egg’s Swyer Theater with an Irish accent; down the hill, Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley played country in the Times Union Center.

Cowboy Junkies’ two sets focused differently on their 1988 breakthrough album “The Trinity Sessions.” Recorded with a disarming simplicity as revolutionary as The Band’s “Music From Big Pink,” but much quieter, the album launched and re-launched them. When they re-recorded it as “Trinity Revisited” in 2009, it unleashed their creativity in the four-album “Nomad” series.

“Nomad” songs were the first set, “Trinity” the second.

Churchy-folky “Fairytale” started with a hush, but the band opened up as whisper-singer Margo Timmins stood to give her voice more breath in fierce tribute to the late, great Vic Chesnutt; this also gave her voice edges, where it’s usually all middle.

Most of the first set felt gentle, soft and slow; “We Are the Selfish Ones” and “Angels in the Wilderness,” for example, flexed a soothing strength. But they built to a ferocious rock outburst in “3rd Crusade,” protesting the Afghan War with fierce guitar from Michael Timmins, who until then had etched supportive chords under Jeff Bird’s assertive electric mandolin leads. “(Big expletive) I Hate the Cold” wrapped the first set with bluesy mandolin.

When they returned to play “The Trinity Sessions” in its entirety and in order, the effect was surprising after the newer songs of the first set; just as the wild energy of “3rd Crusade” seemed all the more stirring amid softer, slower songs. In the original “Trinity” recordings, the band relied far more heavily on Margo Timmins’ voice, when she had way less of it than she now wields. And the band has also developed different and stronger sounds over time, enriching their newer material in particular, often through Bird’s boisterous skills.

The “Trinity” songs challenged Margo especially: Its lead track “Mining for Gold” is an almost naked vocal, and she nailed it, just as she did the exposed coda of “Misguided Angel” that followed. “Blue Moon Revisited” revealed its familiar melody only when Michael Timmins soloed on it, and he took over “I Don’t Get It,” linking noise with Bird’s harmonica. Margo ably covered “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — as slow as possible — “Sweet Jane” and “I Go Walking After Midnight” and showed power she’d lacked in the original recordings when she knocked “Working On a Building” out of the park.

Drummer Peter Timmins and bassist Alan Anton — unheralded, expert — supplied supple muscle to this super-subtle, supernaturally soft-spoken band, then revved the rockers. How fun to see them go all Bo Diddley in “3rd Crusade” under squeals and squalls from Michael Timmins and Jeff Bird while Margo just danced.

 

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