by Leslie Wylie
There are things in life that even rock stars can't hide from. One of them is the inevitability of growing up and the myriad choicesâ"marriage, childbirth, responsibilityâ"that go along with it. You can throw a curtain over it and pretend that it's not there, that you're stilling living the same life as you were before, but that'd only be lying. And dishonesty has never been one of the Cowboy Junkies' stronger suits.
â“We all got into it at different ages,â” Junkies bassist Alan Anton explains from his home in Toronto, Canada. â“It's the gradual immersion into that world of familyâ in the long run it turns you into a different person.â” Naturally, that trickles down into the music itself, as well as into the logistics surrounding it. Tours are shorter, maybe two weeks on and one week off: â“Longer than that, and we get killed when we get home,â” Anton laughs.
His own son is now 15 and, being of the mind that his dad may have â“the best job in the world,â” is an aspiring rock guitarist. The other members of the Junkies have kids as well, of various ages, and if the band's latest album is any indication, the novelty of parenthood has yet to wear off. Mouths to feed, shoes to buy, rent to payâ tears to dry , frontwoman Margo Timmins sings on the opening track of At the End of Paths Taken , released on Zoe/Rounder Records earlier this year.
The song's called â“Brand New World,â” and fittingly. As Timmins' spectral voice meanders across the bleary minutia of everyday existence, it becomes clear that for the Junkies, child-rearing is a multi-dimensional experience, one in which there is both darkness and light, as much hope as there is despair. Paths Taken approaches the subject from a place of familiarity, enveloping Timmins' rough-edged lyrics in an alt-country sound that is simultaneously vacuous and expansive, held to earth by the gravitas of skeletal song structures and murky, brooding guitars.
â“It's a lot about stepping back, examining the whole family thing, which has always been an interest, of course, for the band,â” Anton says, referencing the fact that the band's other three membersâ"vocalist Margo Timmins, guitarist Michael Timmins, and drummer Peter Timminsâ"are siblings. â“We wanted to sit down and take a look at those things.â”
Anton explains that, musically, the biggest new development on Paths Taken was the introduction of a composer to write string parts for the arrangements. Keyboards are another new addition, creating a much more sonically lush, fully-submerged recording than any of its predecessors. â“We had quite a different texture to work with within this album,â” Anton says.
For a band that's been going for nearly 20 years strong, the Junkies seem to possess a rare amount of patience for the ghosts of its early career. Most notably, of course, is the band's haunting cover of the Velvet Underground's â“Sweet Jane,â” which rose to platinum prominence under the umbrella of the band's The Trinity Session . Recorded over the course of a single day in 1988, inside a local church using only a single microphone, the album garnered the Junkies a reputation that would soon transcend the borders of their home country. Anton says that although the band tends to get sick of â“Sweet Jane,â” and that mid-show requests for it can be annoying, the band understands that there are some moments in its life that it may never be able to outrun. â“It's inevitable when you have a song that everybody wants to hear,â” he says, â“but there really aren't any songs that we don't enjoy playing.â”
Of course, age has its upsides as well, namely the acquisition of both experience and confidence. Anton says that, these days, studio sessions are more productive than they've ever been simply because the band knows itself so well. With 19 live and studio albums under their belt, they've been there, done that. â“We all know what works,â” he explains. â“There's not a lot of time wasted on the creative end.â”
Anton is quick to point out, though, that in the grand scheme of things, the Cowboy Junkies are still relative newcomers. He notes that The Police, who'll be reuniting to headline the Bonnaroo music festival this June, have been broken up for longer than the Junkies have been together. â“As far as longevity goes, it does seem like a long time, but we still feel like kids in the overall rock world,â” he says. â“Once you've committed your life to music, it's just where we're at right now, and we'll keep going.â”
WHO: Cowboy Junkies WHEN: Wednesday, May 9, 8 p.m. WHERE: Bijou Theatre HOW MUCH $31 plus service charges, available from all Tickets Unlimited Outlets (656-4444 or www.knoxvilletickets.com )
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