Amid all the flash and bombast that defined the late 80s, Cowboy Junkies proved there was an audience waiting for something quiet, beautiful and reflective with their compelling 1988 classic, The Trinity Session. Combining folk, blues and rock in a way that had never quite been heard before, its whisper cut through all the noise and went on to sell more than a million copies.
Thirty years, more than 20 albums and countless live dates later, their latest album All That Reckoning and upcoming live show at the Royal Northern College of Music boasts the same line-up that formed in Toronto in 1985 – siblings Michael Timmins on guitar, Margo Timmins on vocals, and Peter Timmins on drums, with Michael’s lifelong friend Alan Anton on bass. That’s pretty remarkable by music biz standards, but then they’ve spent three decades ignoring every music-biz norm to follow their own unique path.
“It’s that intimacy and understanding of what each one of us brings to the table that shapes the band,” insists Michael. “Even if the world doesn’t know it, we do.”
For him, All That Reckoning is “a deeper and a more complete record than we’ve ever done before”.
“We’ve always tried to make records that are relevant to who we are as people. These songs are about reckoning on a personal level and reckoning on a political level. So much is going on around us right now and a lot of people are trying to figure out where we’re headed in the world, where society is going, what’s going to come out the other end, just like we are. There are a lot of pressures and a lot of crumbling of institutions, very little foundation to put one’s feet on again, especially at an older age. You sort of expect things to be there and realise ‘my god, what I thought was a standard, whether it be an institution or a way of dealing with people in our society, is disappearing’. To have kids going into that world only adds anxiety to one’s existence.”
A line which veritably jumps out of the song When We Arrive is ‘welcome to the Age of Dissolution’. Apposite as it may be to the themes of this album, it seems that, spookily enough, it’s a line that has been in Timmins’ notebook for years.
“Yeah, it’s funny but every time I sat down to write an album I stared at that line and wondered why I wrote it and what it means. Now, of course, it makes complete sense. Finally, the times have caught up with the line and the Age of Dissolution is upon us. A time when so many social and institutional constructs are crumbling and being devoured by forces that we have wittingly and unwittingly unleashed upon the land. It makes sense on a socio-political level but also on a personal level too. As one gets older, life can change quite radically. The world that I live in as a musician has always been a difficult thing anyway and it’s harder now, especially as a more ‘mature’ musician.”
He adds: “We essentially think of ourselves as a live band. But we’ve released a lot of records over the years, and in the business climate the way it is today it becomes more difficult to figure out why one does that besides for the art of it. I kind of liked the idea of ‘the reckoning’ being one where you go through something, deal with the issues in front of you and come out stronger on the other side. To me it’s a reaffirmation. I think the reckoning is still going on.”
Images by Heather Pollock
Cowboy Junkies play at the Royal Northern College Of Music on November 10, 2018