Cowboy Junkies Go Back to Church

Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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FogoLabs arranged the musicians in a circle around a Holophone H2-PRO surround mic.

FogoLabs arranged the musicians in a circle around a Holophone H2-PRO surround mic.

The band and their guests had a three-hour rehearsal the night before the shoot, and it turned out to be more than just running through the tunes. In the documentary, you see Adams making suggestions for the “out” on “Working on a Building”; indeed, everyone was involved in re-imagining the songs and breathing new life and fresh nuances into the material. “It was a very collaborative effort,” Francois Lamoureux offers. “I think you have to give the Cowboy Junkies a lot of credit for being so open to everyone's ideas.” Then, it mostly became a matter of just capturing the performances as they went down.

“There are so many DVDs out there where everything is overdubbed,” Francois Lamoureux says, “whereas when we do things, I can only think of a couple where we had to overdub stuff, and two of them were because a wireless microphone died. Typically, we don't overdub, so everything you hear the guys actually played. We went to great lengths — because it was so live in the church — to mike things properly. A lot of care was given — good cables and good outboard gear — but at the end of the day, great audio doesn't make a hit album. But if you have fantastic audio, fantastic music and fantastic players, you get classics.”

You can see and hear the players and singers locking in on each song; the chemistry is palpable. The performances feel fresh, not overworked, so you can actually feel the arrangements coalescing. “It was a magical night,” Francois Lamoureux says without a hint of hype in his voice, just admiration. The old church “embraced” the music, Jeff Bird says.

In true Cowboy Junkies fashion, there's very little in the way of flashy playing or musicians and singers calling attention to themselves. Yet the interlocking parts seem just about perfect, and there are so many little touches that make Trinity Revisited the masterpiece it is: Bird's wah-wah mandolin on “Sweet Jane”; the elegant but soulful interweaving of Natalie's, Margo's and Ryan Timmins' voices on “Misguided Angel”; the melancholy interplay of Bird's fiddle and Merchant's piano and vocal on “To Love is to Bury,” about which Francois Lamoureux comments: “That was challenging because we had to mike the violin and there were so many cameramen and so much noise because of all the people working, and everything was ambient-miked, so everybody had to be really quiet. That was the one I was most worried about, but Natalie has such a haunting voice and Jeff plays so beautifully.

“I think there's a lot of spontaneity in this music,” he concludes, “and that's because of who they are. The Cowboy Junkies have never stopped to analyze what makes them great. They just go and do it. There's a lot of thought behind what they do, but they're also not afraid to take chances or leave things open to chance. It was a risk going back to that church 20 years later, but they had the right approach and the right attitude.

“People have been listening to this music for 20 years, so they have their own opinions of how it ‘should’ sound, and probably also their own imagination of how the church looks. It's hard because it's like reading a novel and then the movie comes out. Is it going to be as good as your imagination? That's the chance you take. I think it's great they're willing to take chances.”

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