- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

It could be said that the Cowboy Junkies' last album was the one in which lead singer Margo Timmins finally got her way. The band road-tested all its material and only went into the studio once everyone was comfortable performing the tunes live, a break from its regular routine.
"I've always wanted to do it that way," Miss Timmins says over the phone. "For me, when you're on the road, there's no better way to get intimate with a song than to make it believable for an audience."
The result of all those nights on tour is "Open," the band's 11th album and the first with new label Rounder Records. It was released last spring. The Cowboy Junkies will perform tomorrow night at the 9:30 Club.
"With 'Open,' a lot of the theme was changing," Miss Timmins says. "The band was going through a lot of changes, leaving a major label and going at it on our own. We're all hitting 40 at about the same time you're not young and you're not old. It's your chance to change your life or not."
Although the band has experimented with its sound through the years, Miss Timmins' haunting vocals paired with her brother Michael Timmins' lyrics are the foundation of its distinctive music. "Open" continues this development, with songs that waver from psychedelic rock to country folk to lush ballads.
The album begins with a wailing, distorted guitar before giving way to Miss Timmins' haunting voice on "I Did It All for You," which weaves a tragic tale of murder and suicide. These darker themes are almost cleansed by the record's end, with the lush beauty of "Beneath the Gate" and the closing song, "Close My Eyes," which sounds refreshingly optimistic with its piano-laced melody and Miss Timmins' singing "I'm going to close my eyes and walk away."
That the Cowboy Junkies are still recording is a minor feat in itself. The Canadian band formed in 1985, with Michael Timmins on guitar and brother Peter Timmins on drums, along with Alan Anton on bass.
"I don't know that there's a secret, I really don't know," says Miss Timmins when asked about the band's longevity. "I want to say family, but then I look at a lot of other family groups that didn't do so well."
The band's signature sound, what the All Music Guide once described as "country on Valium," began with its very first record, 1986's "Whites Off Earth Now." Its follow-up and major success, 1988's "The Trinity Sessions," gained radio play with a gentle cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane."
A major label deal came after that. The band gained a loyal following with several albums in the 1990s, but the Cowboy Junkies never became popular in the mainstream. After leaving Geffen Records following 1998's "Miles From Our Home," the band started its own label, Latent Records, to release some of its leftover B-sides, rarities and live recordings.
The group also created a Web site (www.cowboyjunkies.com) that allows it to interact with fans on a whole new level.
"When you're with the majors, they try to separate you from the audience," Miss Timmins says. "Now, before going out on this tour, I asked the fans 'What do you want to hear? Are you sick of "Sweet Jane"? Are you tired of "Misguided Angel"'"?
As for the band, it has no plans to stop recording or touring and likely will have a new record out next year, Miss Timmins says. A live DVD is set for release in July.
"The problem is we can't really stop working. It's like anybody else," she says. "It's not a problem because we all like to work and it hasn't been so bad that we haven't been able to take any time off."

WHAT: Cowboy Junkies with opener Jennie Stearns
WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
WHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow
TICKETS: $27.50
PHONE: 202/393-0930


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