All Photos By Mark J. Smith
The Cowboy Junkies sounded a bit more psychedelic at the Sellersville this April than they did the last time I photographed them. Some of their songs always had a bit of a psych or indie rock sound, to be sure, but with the addition of Jeff Bird on electric mandolin, they emerged with a full-blown psych rock sound. I liked it. Supporting their new box set, Notes Falling Slow, the Timmins family—Margo, Michael, and Peter—along with Alan Anton and the aforementioned Jeff Bird brought down the house in Sellersville.
Margo explained to the audience that while they may have seemed to be missing for the last few years, they were actually dealing with life and having babies… things like that. Thankfully though, while out of the public eye they were still writing, and Notes Falling Slow was the result.
The group started the concert with “Blue Eyed Saviour” from the recent release. A heavy electric opening leads to Margo’s simply magical voice singing Michael Timmins’ wonderful lyrics—quite a combination. Let’s talk about Margo’s voice for a second. Over the many years I have loved the Cowboy Junkies’ music, it has always been Margo’s voice that I think of first. When she speaks, her voice is soft and sweet; when she sings, she has one of the strongest voices in the business. Can a voice be both soft and strong? Sure, let’s call it smooth, and definitely unique.
Yet as powerful as her pipes are, they don’t distract from the lyrics, which are, for the most part, penned by Michael, with occasional collaboration from Alan Anton. And what beautiful words they are. Brought together with Margo’s golden voice, the songs not only tell a story, but paint a beautiful picture worthy of the Masters. (Canadian, not Dutch.)
After the opening section of electric music, the group broke the show into parts. It was delightfully serene to hear Margo accompanied only be Michael on acoustic guitar and Jeff Bird on harmonica, especially after some really great pieces featuring Michael on electric guitar, Alan with some fantastic bass work, and Jeff on electric mandolin. I can’t forget to mention, Peter was marvelous on drums all night.
Of course, there were the inevitable requests shouted from the audience, including Neil Young covers and “Sweet Jane,” repeatedly. Thankfully, they played my favorite, “Horse in the Country,” and yes, they closed with their incredibly moving version of “Sweet Jane.”
Cowboy Junkies are back. Catch them if you can.
—Mark J. Smith