Leaning into the Darkness: Cowboy Junkies Soothed Albany Audience with Soulful Folk Jazz

The Cowboy Junkies brought their smooth, dark chocolatey sound to a sold out Swyer Theatre at the Egg on November 4, 2017. The stage was set for an intimate evening of bluesy folk music, complete with oriental carpets and roses by the microphone. When the band members took the stage a bit later than expected, any annoyance felt by the audience was quickly soothed away as they opened to “Late Night Radio.”

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            By the second song, “Cheap,” the audience was swaying in a sweet, dream like state normally reserved for sharing a bottle of merlot with old friends. With her hands in her pockets, Margo Timmins presented like someone you knew from college who was swaying and crooning to make you relax and smile. Real, human, and still incredibly talented, Margo’s haunting voice shared story after story from newer albums during the first set. “Mountain Streams” and “Missing Children” highlighted the mandolin as she whispered dreams of abandonment, disillusionment, and loneliness. Her style of pulling her mouth away from the microphone while still crooning along with the instruments added an intense harmony of layered instruments to the complex music.

            Song after song of free associating story telling, even over the saddest plot lines, offered calm reassurance about the human condition. “Sun Comes Up” and “My Little Basquiat” regulated the mood; melancholy but sweet, the richness of the sound rebounded the mood of the concert until “Reckoning,” the final song of the first set. Heavier in bass, and highlighting the musicianship of both the percussionist’s ability to coax his instruments with professional timpanist ability and the bassists’ rhythmic thick sound, “Reckoning” brought the first set to a close on the sad message that lovers often ask for more than they can give.

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            Timmins was drinking tea and taking breaks away to the back of the stage to blow her nose, but those were the only cues she was sick.  Her velvety voice opened the second set as strong as the first. Moving between songs of longing like “Dreaming” and “Hunted” to the more trance like piece “State Trooper,” the Cowboy Junkies demonstrated that they weren’t only prolific in producing albums (they are currently producing their 51st album since 1985), but also able to maintain a mellow vibe through heavier rock, alternative country, folk jazz, and the occasional trance song.

            A three-song acoustic set nicely broke up the second half of the concert, complete with Timmins sharing stories about parenting her son that again brought her humanity directly into focus. The group moved into more familiar territory, including “Sweet Jane” after a satisfying bass and percussion riff led the music back into heavier lands. Ending with “Misguided Angel,” the Cowboy Junkies left the stage with their audience begging for more. They returned to do two more pieces, but the climax of the evening was already passed.

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            The Cowboy Junkies is a Canadian band that was founded by guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins and bassist Alan Anton. Joined by drummer Peter Timmins and singer Margo Timmins, they were well known in the late 1980s for the album The Trinity Session.  While Anton never cracked a smile, and had the flattest affect possible throughout the soulful songs, his intense bass playing is a cornerstone of this mellow group. Adding the talented Jeff Bird on mandolin and harmonica was a beautiful, seamless fit; his sound magically pulled much of the night together with sounds that transformed the Egg to a smoky jazz bar.

            The Cowboy Junkies celebrate what it means to be human: the pain, the longing, and also the connection. Here’s to wishing for at least 50 more albums from this band.

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