Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Trinity Session

Not having anything to do with the Trinity Site, down south of me, but the album by Cowboy Junkies. That album came out twenty years ago (I didn't pick it up until a year or two later after hearing their cover/reworking of "Sweet Jane".) It is, in my opinion, one of those rare perfect albums where all the songs are not only good but are better as part of the whole. Critics toss around terms like "moody" and "ethereal" when referring to it. There are a few covers- Lou Reed, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, but it isn't as country as you'd think from that list. I'd call it "spare" and maybe go for "contemplative", the latter largely because I enjoy listening to it while driving through mountains at night. The tempos are about right for slow dancing with a couple/three of them in 3/4 time.

So, in celebration of the anniversary of the recording of their break out album, the band went back to the church where they all sat around a very expensive microphone and recorded "Trinity Session" and, with the addition of Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, and Jeff Bird, recorded all the songs again and titled the effort "Trinity Revisited".

Since I'm a fan, I pre-ordered the thing like I have most their albums since they started doing things off their own label and website. The package got here the other day and so I tore right into it.

There is always a risk in reinterpreting something that fans have listened to thousands of times and come to love. I've read that the difficulty is an artifact of recorded music. Before we listened to exactly the same version of a song repeatedly people didn't have such fixed expectations as to what a given song should sound like. I've heard Jimmy Buffett complaint that he can't recall all the words to his own songs as exactly as the fans, as he hasn't listened to them over and over again.
Nonetheless, I was optimistic that "Trinity Revisited" would be a good album. In part, with was because I think one of the Junkies' strengths is their covers- apart from "Nebraska" I don't care for Springsteen, but every cover of his work I've heard by Cowboy Junkies has pointed up how good his songwriting can be and brought out beauty that never gets through the bombast that is all I get from the songs when Springsteen performs them. At best, it is going to take a couple dozen listens to decide about this album and I'm not sure I'll get there. Margo Timmins, the Junkies' singer, has become a stronger vocalist over the years and her voice is wonderful. In contrast, the male singers on this album are terrible, unmusical, and not good despite having other, decent recordings. For that matter, I'm not sure what the deal was with Natalie Merchant. She wasn't singing in harmony much with Timmins and seems to sing in an increasingly stylized manner as time goes on. Hard stuff.

It's always interesting going back to something you really enjoy, whether it be a food, a movie, an album, or whatever. Much as I like live music and appreciate how a new take on a song can give it a different feeling, I haven't really been able to warm up to this recording and find myself thinking "they're messing up this song" because it doesn't sound like the original. You all can see a bit of "Trinity Revisited" here. If you don't have it, buy "Trinity Session", from back in '86, the very first opportunity.


Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I love that album. Always have. One christmas (too long ago to admit) I was struggling to figure something out to get my dad. We are two very very different people and giftgiving is always a nightmare. We just don't understand or even "know" each other. So I put together a basket of things I truly loved and thought my dad and I could actually share in enjoyment. The Trinity Session was in that basket. I think he liked it.

mdmnm said...

Nice thought for a gift! As is probably clear from the post, "The Trinity Session" is one of those albums I can always go back to.