Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Mining For Gold
First, please accept our apologies for the random changes in the appearance of this site over the next few weeks. I'm trying to make it more interesting to look at, but since I am woefully ignorant of web design, things could get a little funky looking for awhile, while I tutorial myself through various issues. Any missing links will be shortly fixed, also.
I promised last week I wanted to pay tribute to what I consider one of the few "perfect" albums ever made. Everyone, of course, has an opinion on what makes a "perfect" album, and everyone, I'm sure, has at least one or two records that they consider essential, if not perfect. I wouldn't pretend to have the inside track on what constitutes a perfect album for all ears, but, you know, I know what I like. (Feel free to insert any other cliches that spring to mind). For me, I have a small handful of records, maybe 10, I'd consider perfect (Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" to name but two), and about a thousand or so "essential" records that fall just short of perfect (REM's "Automatic For The People", for example, could have been perfect if not for the abysmal and abysmally placed "Ignoreland"). There's no point in boring all y'all with the specific criteria as to what I think constitutes a perfect album (filler ratio, sequencing, etc.), since we live in an individually subjective world, but I'll tell you why the following album is.
The Trinity Sessions by The Cowboy Junkies.
20 years ago, The Cowboy Junkies released "The Trinity Sessions", an album recorded into a single microphone at the Gothic Church Of The Holy Trinity, in Toronto. I was well into my punk and college rock years, scoffing at anything that sounded remotely country (with the exception of Hank Williams, 'cause he was, you know, kind of punk rock in his own way). But the reviews of the album were intriguing, there was a cover version of the holy "Sweet Jane", and their name had a certain cachet that interested my wannabe hipster high-school self. So, what the hell, right? I'd give it a try. In the space of a year I wore out three cassettes of the album before investing in a copy on that newfangled technology, the CD.
Most of the damage caused to those three cassettes was in the shitty tape deck of my '72 Chevy Nova, rambling aimlessly through the country roads of middle Ohio in the dead of night.
It's that kind of album. Spare and intimate, hushed and built for radio static, the angelic and sleepy voice of Margo Timmins. And I'm obsessed with voices, not the "perfect" voice, but the voice that sounds the most human, or contains the most humanity. Margo Timmins is both, and she melted my teenage heart, sad, sultry, and sublime. The band, and ancillaries, hovering around the mic, you can picture it, with the lonesome accordion, the muted, solitary harmonica, and the 2 A.M. canyon echo of pedal steel, breathing a heartbeat of enclosed space ("Mining For Gold") and the freedom of open roads ("200 More Miles"). Music to fall in love to and with ("Dreaming My Dreams With You"), and music to be alone to. And with.
There is not a wasted note, breath, or vocal intonation on The Trinity Sessions. Every song belongs, and flows naturally into the next, even "Sweet Jane", reimagined as a lament ("heavenly wine and roses seem to whisper to me when you smile"). The acoustics of recording in a cathedral add to the late nite vibe, the (into the) mystic hovering like a sweet perfume over the proceedings, blessed and cursed by the things not seen, not known, and not explained.
What's striking is how well the album holds up 20 years later. It's timeless. It could have been produced by Owen Bradley in the 1950's, could have come down from the Appalachian Mountains in the 1920's, could have passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years from Europe to the Americas and back. It's still my go-to album in the still of night ("Blue Moon Revisited" indeed), whiskey in hand, the lights off, and only the sound of the crickets, the scattered cars on the street, and the Cowboy Junkies to keep me company. Perfection.
What's your perfect album?
I couldn't choose a favorite song from The Trinity Sessions. Below are three tunes that struck me most immediately at the moment I had to upload them onto my server. Five more minutes and I would have offered up three separate tunes. Do yourself a favor. If you don't already own the album, pick it up. If you already do, dust it off and give it another spin. You deserve it.
Cowboy Junkies: 200 More Miles (mp3)
Cowboy Junkies: Misguided Angel (mp3)
Cowboy Junkies: Dreaming My Dreams With You (mp3)
Thanks for stopping by. See y'all next time.