Monday, March 10, 2008

Going Home Again

On the Cowboy Junkies newest album, "Trinity Revisited" they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their landmark 1988 album "The Trinity Sessions." Even going as far as returning to Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity, the sight of the original recording. At first blush this sounds like possibly the worst idea of their career. The original is a certified classic, whatever they did with it they were bound to ruffle lots of feathers.

With such an endeavor there were two courses that were the obvious ones. First they could try to meticulously duplicate the original. But what’s the point in that, lightning never strikes in the same place twice in exactly the same way. The second clear path would be to do something completely different with the same batch of songs. Of course with so many listeners that love the music this could also make the Cowboys the victims of a lynching.

The Junkies chose a third, less clear path. To stay true to the original spirit, while breaking new ground with the arrangements. Along for the ride are some impressive guest musicians. Again, Cowboy Junkies avoid the pitfall of just picking current “hot” musicians. Instead they find sympathetic souls that understand the original masterwork, but aren’t afraid of it. It’s impossible to imagine a better supporting cast than Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, Natalie Merchant, and Jeff Bird (whose a given.) Gone is the minimalist miking of the original. The sound isn’t as spacious as the original but the tonality of the individual instruments, particularly the vocals is arguably more accurate.

Overall the guests are used to good effect. Everyone is perfect in their rolls. While it wasn’t rehearsed and recorded in one day, like it’s inspiration the pace was still breakneck. One day for technical set up (lighting, cameras, sound) the second day for rehearsals, and a third for the performances. This surely helps keep things fresh, fun, and just a little dangerous.

The set comes not only with a CD, but also a DVD. Production of both is first rate. The video was shot 1080, at 24 frames per second (actually 23.976 if you want to be specific about it.) and the audio was recorded at 24/96, so they’ve prepared for the future as well as making a great looking and sounding package for today. The DVD defaults to the PCM stereo track, handy for those who want to listen to the 24/96 track of the DVD but either don’t have a monitor to navigate menus, or simply don’t want to turn it on. Someone was thinking. Bravo! Also contained on the DVD is a documentary covering both the making of the original and the updated version which runs about 30 minutes, as well as the band’s early “creative” touring methods.

Not only has the new version been played numerous times, but it’s mandated more listenings to the original. There is no higher praise than that.

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