In an intimate, reflective performance that could've just as easily taken place in a coffee shop or a friend's living room, the Cowboy Junkies delivered their brand of hypnotic, wistful blues to a full house at the Rialto Theatre.
The onstage family affair included songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, brother Peter on drums, and sister Margo at the helm, singing in her sultry, soulful signature style. Joining them were founding member/bassist Alan Anton, along with Jeff Bird, master of both electric mandolin and harmonica.
The group opened with "Mountain" (from their 2007 release At the End of Paths Taken), which provided the perfect introduction to Margo's stunning voice. Included in the two-hour set were familiar hits from 1988's The Trinity Session, a 20-year-old experimental triumph in sentimental, laid-back blues. They performed "I Don't Get It" with its signature harmonica, "To Love Is to Bury," "Blue Moon Revisited" and "Dreaming My Dreams With You." A slowed down, extended version of "Working on a Building" artfully showcased the band's ability to seamlessly improvise, something born out of years of experience on stage.
When Margo described the process of recording and releasing Trinity Revisited, a 20th-anniversary tribute to the original album that put them on the musical map, it was rather easy to get sidetracked from the point of the story: She has the type of voice that one prays they hear at the other end of the line if they're in the market for phone sex. She could've been talking about flea collars, and everyone would've been equally attentive.
With one hand grasping the microphone and the other gently draped atop, Margo noted that the Cowboy Junkies' themes tend to focus on war, greed, anger and loss. To illustrate this, in one of several audience dedications throughout the evening, she sang a song about her own grandfather: "You said never to grow old, but you forgot to tell me how." When they played a Richie Havens cover, "Handouts in the Rain," from their Early 21st Century Blues album, Margo sipped her tea and unapologetically explained that "it wasn't the happiest album (they) ever wrote, but that's what (they) do."
This summed up the feeling during their performance: It was honest, reflective, borderline melancholy and yet somehow full of hope.