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.


Anonymous said...

My perfect album? I agree with you about Wee Small Hours. That one is perfect. London Calling is a perfect double album. Bringing It All Back Home is a perfect Dylan album. Kind of Blue is a perfect jazz album. For me, The Band by The Band is a perfect rock album. Fun subject.

Also, I like The Trinity Sessions, but something keeps me from calling it perfect. I'm not wild about the Hank or the Patsy covers.

Anonymous said...

A '72 Nova huh? I drove around in a 1970 Nova back in high school. That thing was like an iron tank with a lawn mower engine under the hood. I once got 11 people in it with two in the trunk.

As for perfect album, mine is Joe Walsh's "So What". Came out around 1974. His 3 year old daughter had just been killed by being run over by a car. He was grieving, but the record company forced him to honor his contract and make an album, hence the title "So What". It's a record brimming with pain and loss, wit and wisdom. When I'm feeling down, it's a great record to crank up and let it all go.

Tom Compton

Anonymous said...

buzz sez --

I agree there's only a tiny number of truly perfect albums. Cast my votes for Miles Davis' SKETCHES OF SPAIN, Bruce Springsteen's BORN TO RUN, The Beatles' RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER, and Webb Wilder's HYBRID VIGOR.

Ramone666 said...

Marquee Moon, Blood On The Tracks, Horses, Exile On Main St., Kind Of Blue & Astral Weeks immediately come to mind.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're aware of Trinity Revisited. I downloaded "200 More Miles" because I remember how much I'd enjoyed the song, and now Ryan Adams was a guest vocalist. I like Adams a lot, but it just made me want to hear the original.

Anonymous said...

This is a fine album. As a Canadian, I loved this album when it first came out. Then, I hated it, but felt obliged to hang on to it. I described it as "music to slash your wrists by" for many years. I've since rediscovered it. You're absolutely correct. It's timeless. By the way, Margo Timmins has never been too hard to look at, either.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this choice. What a great album...and it still holds up so well. Timeless, indeed. It makes me think of back roads in Mt Vernon, late nights in the living room on High St, and my girl.

Thanks, man!

Will Divide said...

Hem's Rabbit Songs might just qualify.

Exile on Main Street, Harvest, of course.

How about Muddy Waters' Folksinger?

And I gotta ask, how many of us here went to Kenyon?

mister anchovy said...

My choices today....Indians Cowboys Horses and Dogs by Tom Russell, Old Corrals and Sagebrush by Ian Tyson, Blood on the Tracks by Weird Bob, Texas Tornados by Texas Tornados, Dare to Dream by Don Walser.

Brian K Reese said...

Interesting choices, y'all. I must confess a few I haven't even heard, which means back to the record store...cuz I'm not there enough as it is, ahem.

I'm mixed on "Exile on Main Street". It's one of my favorite records, hell I've probably played it more than any other record...but something keeps preventing me from elevating it...maybe it's "Turd On The Run", which for some reason aggravates me. I dunno.

"Marquee Moon", on the other hand. Yep, perfect album.

Ryan, those were some pretty good times, weren't they? Now I'm all nostalgic..

Testify said...

No Other Gene Clark

Screamadelica Primal Scream (although I haven't listened to it in a long time so might have changed my mind on that one)

The Stone Roses eponymous first album

Polnareffs Michel Polnareff

Genuine Imitation Life Gazette by The Four Seasons has been on pretty much constantly since I got it at Xmas.

Got to admit though much of the music I really love: funk, soul,country & rockabilly is not particularly well served by album.

Brian K Reese said...

Testify, good point on funk, soul, country, etc. being "not...well served by album". I've got these clutches of "greatest hits" and box sets that don't count as proper albums...the problem being that the concept of the "album" as a singular thing is relatively new in the broad scope of things. Hank Williams and Robert Johnson never, of course, recorded a proper album, as we know it. Music was such a "singles" driven medium for so long. Sort of skews things, don't it? Thanks for bringing up that point.

Oh, and The Stone Roses' first album...yeah, you could make a real good argument for that being a perfect record. One would have to work really, really hard to disprove or find a flaw in that record. 'Course that second album they did (what, a hundred years later?) was so terrible as to cock up their reputation, and possibly even taint the brilliance of their first.


p.s. New post on Wednesday. Really. Swear to Hank.

Mark P said...

Yeah, country is more of a singles medium. However, I would nominate "Red Headed Stranger" for the list. And say what you will, but you could do worse on a desert island list than "I Am What I Am" by George Jones.

Lots of good ones mentioned above. I would add:
"Tonight's The Night" Neil Young
"This Year's Model" Elvis Costello
"Electric Warrior" T.Rex
"Labour Of Lust" Nick Lowe

Anonymous said...

Perfect country record = "Honky Tonk Heroes" by Waylon Jennings.

Thugolina said...

One review at the time said Trinity Sessions was perfect "3 o'clock in the morning music". I was a college sophmore when it came out, and it was my perfect post-party/crash-time album.

My "perfect album" for the day - Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend".
(I'd add the accompaning accoustic "Goodfriend" as a bookend, except for his wrenching version of "Cortez the Killer".)

Anonymous said...

Trinity is indeed a perfect album; I've hand-made my entire hi-fi system from the caps & resistors on up to play Trinity above all others.

A point of interest: Trinity is "A Digital R-Dat Recording, using only a Calrec Ambisonic Microphone" which is a single mic with 4 capsules in a pyramid. Thanks to some very clever engineering, that "one" mic is uniquely able to capture the atmospheric nuance of the space it is recording. As sublime as the CJ's performance was, it was the mic that made Trinity what it is.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Perfect? Hawkwind's "Hall of the Mountain Grill" just might command the moment. Put it your pipe and smoke it. A little louder than perfect? DOA's "13 Flavours of Doom" is not much subtler than the rain of bodies from the World Trade Centre a few years back. That's Murder Squad entertainment.

E.E. Lawson said...

I agee with Frank's "Wee Small", I would add Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town", Clash's "London Calling" and my I am sure my uncool pick, Pure Prairie League's "Bustin' Out"

Michael Verity said...

Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

Fusion 45

Mark P said...

Uncool, perhaps, but "Bustin' Out" is indeed a very good record.

And how could I have forgotten "Girlfriend"?!! A true masterpiece.

Anyone here remember The Saints' "All Fools Day"? My dark horse.

Scurvy said...

My perfect album? Dr' John's Gumbo.

Ole5anddimer said...

I am devouring your blog...Chomp Chomp...I love this record...I just started my little blog and put up a Ten All time essential album list from a previous site that I got alot of comments on...Check it out for my ten....