Cowboy Junkies : Trinity Revisited

cowboy_junkies_trinity.jpgRarely is it advisable to revisit the past. Sure, classic reissues boast enhanced sound and a few extras, but these albums are most frequently relegated to their own section in the music press, an area where your expectations are confirmed by the written word, and the only fresh ideas unfold in the description of the “extras.” Cowboy Junkies, though, have successfully visited the past with Trinity Revisited, and they have done so with a little help from their friends.

Originally recorded in 1987 at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, The Trinity Session was a defining moment for this Canadian-born band whose experience on the road and love for country music collided in this church, live and unfiltered, on a set of originals with a few covers thrown in for good measure. Back in the church two decades later, Cowboy Junkies, with its original lineup, found the same pristine sound, but with friends Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant, Jeff Bird, and Vic Chesnutt who add both voice and instrumentation throughout the album.

Trinity Revisited is more than a trip into the past. It is the reinvention of one of the landmark albums for Gen X-ers. Embracing the same recording schedule (the original was recorded in one day – save “Mining for Gold”), Cowboy Junkies, with what sounds like minimal effort, organically recreate each of the album’s 12 songs. Merchant and singer Margo Timmons duet on “Misguided Angel,” the heavenly exchange eased by trills of mandolin, and Chesnutt shares verses with Timmons in “Blue Moon (Song for Elvis), robust undercurrents propelling the band. “I Don’t Get It” remains ambient honky-tonk, although Adams gives it a shot of vinegar with vocals and ambling guitar licks. And much like the original, one of the most enchanting of the batch is the haunting “Sweet Jane,” a languid recreation of the Velvet Underground staple that is the classic shadow-song, Timmons’ vocals as ethereal as ever.

Listening to Trinity Revisited is only half of the equation. To capture the occasion, Cowboy Junkies brought along filmmakers Pierre & Francois Lamoureux who set the musicians in a circle facing one another, then filmed from both outside and inside the circle. The effect is intimate, the interaction between the musicians clear and inspiring. More impressive is the precision that is evident in the playing, the notes confidently set adrift with spine-tingling results.

Trinity Revisited is a landmark return to a landmark album. Cowboy Junkies haven’t simply revisited the past, they have improved upon it with a celebration of the music and a time that was innocent and inspiring. Together, the CD and DVD play out like a dream, one night that came and went 20 years ago, only to be discovered in the and the Church of the Holy Trinity again. Pure magic, indeed.

Trinity Revisited is out now on Latent Recordings.