Cowboy Junkies take the stage at 32 Bleu

click to enlarge The Cowboy Junkies are at 32 Bleu on Thursday.
  • The Cowboy Junkies are at 32 Bleu on Thursday.

Shocking news for Hanson fans -- they're not the only sibling trio in music. If your favorite band must have blood ties in it, then please, for the love of original songwriting, start listening to the Cowboy Junkies instead.

Formed in Toronto in 1985, the Cowboy Junkies are Alan Anton (bass) and siblings Michael (guitar), Peter (drums) and Margo (vocals) Timmins. Over their two decades of recording and performing, they have recorded 15 albums, toured extensively, and seen the rise and fall of countless musical trends. In a time when aging rockers are some of the top-selling concert acts in the world (the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2), the Cowboy Junkies have maintained their integrity by playing smaller clubs and venues in order to consistently deliver their understated blues- and folk-driven sound.

Many listeners first discovered the Junkies through 1988's Trinity Session, an album that the band recorded gathered around a single microphone and a digital tape deck. That album included their beautiful cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," the band's biggest mainstream success, which introduced the Junkies to a whole new audience when it was featured on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers.

But the Junkies' original tunes have continued to thrive on college radio, and the intellectual and political sensibilities of the lyrics have garnered critical acclaim. One of the shinier gems in their catalogue (there's really not a bad one in the bunch) is a collection of their BBC Radio One Sessions, which showcases their humor, affection for one another and commitment to their craft.

The Junkies are on tour promoting their new album, One Soul Now, self-produced and recorded, written while the band was in the studio, featuring secondhand instruments.

The lyrics to "Simon Keeper" reveal the band's sense of humor: Jesus was a carpenter he died nailed to a wooden cross. / Irony oh irony upon me it is never lost.

All of their songs deal with what the band describes as the "usual pop song subjects: death and children and divorce and financial worries, age and sickness and just general fatigue." In other words, it's music about the raw stuff in life. As such, many of the songs are spare, subtle and poignant without any of the pageantry that so often accompanies emotionally charged pop songs.

With Margo's lilting, breathy voice (think Beth Gibbons of Portishead meets Edie Brickell), it would be easy to classify the Junkies' music as sad. But the lyrics to "Notes Falling Slow" explain the sound and the intent: This ain't no depression, just notes falling slow. / An early snow and notes falling slow.

"We all have to deal with these things (unexpected forces that enter our lives) as we get older and they creep into all aspects of our lives and of our relationships," the band's Web site explains. "Not just the relationships between partners, but those between oneself and the world around us: how one sees oneself fitting in to the grand-scheme-of-things becomes more confused and less stable as we grow older ... this is what these songs are about."

-- Bettina Swigger

capsule The Cowboy Junkies

Thursday, Aug. 26, 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 8)

32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.

$20 general admission, $32.50 reserved; Call 955-5564.


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