Here are a couple of live performances that we recorded and filmed at the CBC studios last month for the program Drive:
The music from the entire session can be heard via itunes podcast here.
We’re headed out to the midwest for Round Two in April and we’ll be in MI, IL, MN, IA, MO, NE, KS, WI and TN. More specifically, we’ll be in Ann Arbor, Evanston, Minneapolis, Davenport, St Louis, Omaha, Salina, Madison, Cincinnati, Nashville, Chicago and Kent. Check here for all the details.
I had a good conversation with Gary Graff of Billboard the other day, here it is….
Cowboy Junkies Getting Back To ‘The Folk Vibe’ on ‘The Wilderness’
by Gary Graff, Detroit | March 08, 2012 3:15 EST
As Cowboy Junkies prepare to wrap up their four-album Nomad Series with the March 27 release of “The Wilderness,” guitarist and chief songwriter Michael Timmins is “kind of stunned” at the breadth and scope of the 18-month project.
“It’s a lot of music and a lot of writing and recording and mixing that goes into making an album — a lot of work, but it really went effortlessly,” Timmins tells Billboard.com. “We started from a really loose concept; we never planned to link all four (albums) together with any kind of conscious stream. We knew that the time constraints we placed on it would give (the series) a certain amount of cohesion, anyway. But we definitely wanted each record to have its own feel and vibe and singular concept.”
Timmins feels “The Wilderness,” due out March 27, is distinguished by “a return of the folk vibe the band made its first noise with in the early 90s and late 80s,” while some of the songs were inspired by the group’s earlier works.
“They’re all very reflective songs,” Timmins explains. “I started to think in terms of an album of songs reflecting on the lives of characters I’d written about early in the bands career and bringing those characters 20 years into the future to see where their lives were at now. Some of those songs have little touch points where, if you’re a real freak and analyze the music, you can see how they connect to earlier songs — even character’s names and stuff pops into them, and that’s intentional. It was fun to sit and go over those older songs and some of the ideas I was thinking about and exploring and believed in and seeing 20 years later where I sit with some of those ideas. It’s always fascinating to do that with yourself and with the songs. It’s a treat for me, anyway.”
“The Wilderness” is not the very end of the Nomad Series, however. Later this year Cowboy Junkies will publish a book based on the albums, with artwork by Enrique Martinez Celaya — the Cuban-American artist whose “Nomad” paintings helped to inspire the series — a fifth CD of material, photographs and lyrics to all the songs. “It’s really beautiful,” Timmins says of the volume. “I’m a book person; when you come across a really nice book, texturally…it’s that type of book. It’s something you can browse through and really look at. It’s just another way of looking at the series.”
Cowboy Junkies have become nomadic in advance of “The Wilderness'” release, with a North American tour that will take the group into late March. The group will probably do more touring this year and is also contemplating its next project — which will likely be more modest than the Nomad Series, Timmins says. There’s also the question of the 25th anniversary of the recording of the landmark group’s landmark “The Trinity Session” album at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, which Timmins says the band would like to commemorate in some way.
“That album’s never been reissued,” he notes. “It’s an album that was made with very primitive digital equipment back when it was the newest thing. I’d love to clean up the tracks and remaster it and reissue it. But dealing with the people who own it (BMG Canada/Sony) is very difficult — not that they don’t want to do it, but they have a bureaucracy, so we’re trying to get through that to the right person. We’ll do all the work, it’s just a matter of somebody saying, ‘OK, this is an important record. Let’s do it right.’ So hopefully we’ll be able to settle all that soon and get to work on it.”
Charleston is home to the NPR show Mountain Stage. It has been a staple in our touring lives for the past couple of decades. This was our ninth appearance on the show. It’s gratifying to know that a show that caters strictly to live music can be as successful and survive for as long as Mountain Stage. It means that there are still people out there that have a thirst for music in its most basic and raw form. We thank the listeners and the dedication of all the people who make this show work. It’s never an easy gig. There is a live audience of about 400 people and usually four or five acts on the show. Each act has anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes to get on, do their thing and leave. So you never really get comfortable on stage, the sound and positioning of each player is not in your control, like it is for a regular gig. So things are usually a little stiff, sometimes a little forced. We felt we had a decent showing tonight…not great, not very deep in-the-pocket, but an adequate impression of ourselves. We hope to be back in a couple of years to collect our 10th show-appearance jackets.
We have a quirk in our schedule that has left us two days off in a row in Harrisburg PA. This city wouldn’t have been my first choice for two days off, probably not even my second. The city has all the bones and tools for making it a great place to visit; the Susquehanna River at its doorstep (the city has done a great job at developing the riverside with pedestrian walkways and parks); some beautiful 19th century buildings (including a half a dozen spectacular churches); an incredibly beautiful and opulent Capitol building; it’s well located in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Territory and within relatively easy reach of Philadelphia, Washington and NYC…and yet, there is something missing. The downtown is clean and efficient but there is very little to do at street level. There is hardly any interesting retail to speak of, very few restaurants, coffee shops or places to just mill about in. There is no energy or vibe downtown….like a lot of government towns, it seems that the bureaucrats come in for the day and empty out by 4pm. But we made the best of it. Most of us slept away the first day, allowing our bodies to recover from six shows in a row. In the evening a few of us ventured off to a highly recommended BBQ joint around the corner from the hotel. The food was overcooked and dry (and all of us ended up waking up at 4am with heartburn), but the restaurant had one of the best beer selections that we have come across in a long time: Dogfish Head and Stone IPA on tap, and dozens of obscure, excellent independent brews in the bottle including some of our favourites like Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Southern Tier IPA, so all was not lost. I also stumbled across Scott Pilgrim Vs The World on HBO and watched it for about the 5th time… one of the great unheralded movies of the past few years…it’s a film full of energy, intelligence and fun….. true entertainment. My daughter has gone out on Halloween as one of its characters (Knives Chau) for the past two years and my son took up bass playing because of the movie. A lot of it is also filmed in our neighborhood, so I have a soft spot for it. If you are in need of letting things go for a couple of hours, or if you just want to remember what it was like to be young and full of angst, check it out.
On day two of our marathon we secured tickets to see the Flyers vs Red Wings (a big thank you to Liz Campanile, our PR rep for going on fifteen years, who worked the phones until she got through to the right person). Our driver, Sid, was as keen to do something as we were, so we bought him a ticket and we took the bus on in to Philly. Many thanks to the good folks at the Wells Fargo Arena that were able to squeeze a 65 foot bus and trailer in to their parking lot and found 9 tickets in a row. It was a decent game (although the Wings were without their top forward, defenceman and number one goalie and the Flyers were without their captain). The home team hung on to win 3-2 so it ended as it should. There was a retirement ceremony for Mark Howe’s number at the beginning of the game and Mark’s father Gordie was there for the ceremony. Seeing Gordie Howe made the whole trip worthwhile. On the way home we finished off the first season of Justified, which is a fun way to waste some time if you spent your youth watching shows like The Rockford Files, Magnum PI and Columbo. And that’s how we killed two days in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Tonight’s gig was our first with Joe Purdy opening the show (he will be doing so for the next two shows as well). The Whitaker Center is a beautiful theater/complex in downtown Harrisburg (a relatively recent attempt to bring some life back in to the downtown). It is a beautiful sounding room and stage. Unfortunately we had a very light turnout tonight. I think people living in this area probably have more pressing things to spend their dwindling dollars on. But those that did show up were very vocal and enthusiastic. We had a decent night on stage. We may have lost a bit of focus near the end of the night but overall I think the energy was good.
We’ve been coming to Norfolk for years now and we have watched this city grow from being an ugly little wart on the face of the enormous naval base that houses the Atlantic Fleet, to being a very sharp little burgh with lots to recommend it as a tourist destination. A lot of US Naval history emanates from this port, it is also a very short ride to the Jamestown Settlement, the Yorktown battle site, numerous civil war sites and only a few miles from some very nice beaches and a beautifully maintained wetland preserve. They have also poured tons of money into developing the downtown and waterfront area. It’s not a bad place to base yourself if you want to explore this part of the country. When we first started coming here we used to play a club called The Boathouse. It was a rotting old club set on the derelict waterfront….a real dive. I think locals have fond memories of the place because it played host to a lot of acts as they were coming up the ranks, but it was not a pleasant stop on our itinerary. In the early nineties we did a very fun and successful tour with John Prine. We played at the small arena downtown and one of the crew got held up at gunpoint just outside the stage door. Our next stop in this town was a downtown club (I think it was called The NorVa). It was a huge step up from The Boathouse but it was a cold, box-like building and not a lot of fun to play. Our new home in Norfolk is Attucks Theater, a very nice old theater on the edge of downtown, with lots of history and character. We’re slowly moving up the ladder. It was a really nice size audience tonight and very enthusiastic. We weren’t all that pleased with our show. The eighth show in nine nights kind of caught up to us and were a little unfocused and sloppy. Bring on the Red Bull…time to dig in.
It was a spectacularly beautiful day: a little chilly, but full of sunshine. There was a very nice energy on The Mall in Charlottesville. Many cities have tried the downtown pedestrian Mall as an attempt at bringing up a neglected part of the city, but few have succeeded. The downtown Mall in Charlottesville seems to have worked. There’s a nice combination of retail, restaurants, at least three music venues and an old independent movie theater. It’s an inviting and friendly place with lots of reasons to visit. We hung out all day and spent a bit of money on breakfast crepes and crappy birthday toys for Margo’s son Ed who has been out with us for the past few days…. today was his birthday. I gave him a supreme wedgie for his birthday. He didn’t appreciate it, but I think it’s the only present that he got today that he will remember ten years from now. I figure that since he doesn’t have any brothers he needs his uncles to supply the necessary childhood rites-of-passage, like wedgies. We had another sold out show tonight. This was our first time at The Jefferson Theater and it was a very good experience: very friendly and helpful stage hands and backstage help. I don’t know how we played tonight, but we had fun and it sounded like the audience had fun…and that’s about as good as it gets. We love this town.
Three nights in the same bed. It’s practically unheard of on tour. We had a day off on Monday and then two nights at the Ram’s Head….which all adds up to three nights in the same bed. This is a decent little town to be stranded in if one has to be stationary for a few days. There is history, coffee, decent beer, ok food, books, ice cream all within walking distance. What more can one want on a day off.
The Ram’s Head is one of those venues that looks like it shouldn’t work, but we always have a good time and very good shows in this room. It’s small and cramped and the stage is too small and the PA is no great shakes, but the stage and room sound great, the audiences are always keen and supportive and we always have fun. I think we overplayed the room on the first night, but it was still a good night. The second night we settled in and had a very good evening. On Tuesday, Jeff, Margo, Jared and I ventured in to DC to record a Tiny Desks concert with Bob Boilen. Bob (and NPR) have been big supporters of the band over the years for which we are extremely grateful. The concert will be posted on the Tiny Desk site later this month (we’ll let you know).
Unlike the Rams Head, the Birchmere is the type of room that looks like it should be perfect for us. We love coming here: the staff is always friendly, we are cared for from the minute we arrive and our audience seems to like the room because we always sell it out. But there is something about the sound on stage that always keeps us from having one of those great shows. It’s very hard to hear the dynamics of the band on stage and so it becomes difficult to fall in to the music and let it take over. Also, the way the room is set up leaves a lot of the audience off to the side and so it’s hard to get a feel for the room. I don’t think that that we have ever sucked in this room, but I feel like we have never really hit it. Tonight was no different….I think we played well but we couldn’t find that next gear.