Canada's Cowboy Junkies' create a music grounded in traditional country, blues, and folk, filled with languid guitars and ethereal vocals courtesy of Margo Timmins. Over the late '80s and '90s, the group recorded a succession of critically acclaimed albums — in particular 1989's Trinity Session that peaked at 26 on the Top 200 due in large part to the success of its lead single, a cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." Their laid back sound found favor in the alternative rock community and became a popular focal point for the emerging Americana movement. In turn, the band used it popularity to celebrate revered songwriters such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Jimmie Dale Gilmore by taking them on tour. The group's run of Top 100 albums included 1990's The Caution Horses, 1992's Black-Eyed Man, 1996's Lay It Down, and 1998's Miles from Our Home. Though their recordings are infrequent in the 21st century, they're considered events upon release. The Cowboy Junkies remain a successful international concert attraction.
The Cowboy Junkies were founded by guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins and bassist Alan Anton (born Alan Alizojvodic), who first played together in a Toronto-based band called the Hunger Project in 1979. They later moved to the U.K. and played with an avant-garde instrumental outfit called Germinal, but eventually grew weary of the group's style and returned to Toronto in 1984. They started jamming with Timmins' brother Peter on drums, and in 1985 they recruited a vocalist in sister Margo, at the time a social worker who'd never sung publicly before. Dubbing themselves the Cowboy Junkies simply because the name had a ring to it, they formed their own independent label, Latent, and released their debut album, Whites Off Earth Now!!, in 1986. Featuring only one original song, the album was recorded using only one microphone, and although it was initially available only in Canada, it helped them land a major-label deal with RCA. Their first widespread release was 1988's The Trinity Session, which was recorded inside Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity in the span of one night — again using only one microphone. The Trinity Session became a cult hit, earning rave reviews from critics and substantial college radio airplay for tracks like "Misguided Angel" and their cover of "Sweet Jane."
Now an underground sensation, the Cowboy Junkies decided to concentrate more on Michael Timmins' original material for the bigger-budget follow-up, 1989's The Caution Horses. The album didn't cause quite as much of a stir, although it helped maintain their cult fan base. Released in 1992, the even more countrified Black Eyed Man found Timmins settling more comfortably into his songwriting voice, which set the stage for 1993's Pale Sun, Crescent Moon. Hailed as their finest effort since The Trinity Session, the record bore more influence from rock and blues, and returned the Junkies to critics' darling status. However, it also proved to be their final album of new material for RCA. As the band left for Geffen, RCA issued the two-disc live compilation 200 More Miles and the best-of Studio. Meanwhile, the Junkies debuted for Geffen in 1996 with Lay It Down, a relatively high-volume effort compared to their shimmering early work.
Following 1998's Miles from Our Home, the Cowboy Junkies parted ways with Geffen and revived their own Latent label. Their first release was the 2000 live album Waltz Across America, which was initially available only through the band's website. They followed it a year later with an album of all-new material, Open. One Soul Now followed in 2004. In 2005, the group released Early 21st Century Blues, a collection of covers — and two originals — that dealt with "war, violence, fear, greed, ignorance and loss." Recorded in just five days, it harked back to The Trinity Session. Later that year, the band was featured on the Beatles tribute album This Bird Has Flown, which was produced by Jim Sampas and featured various artists including the Donnas and Dar Williams.
Meanwhile, the band was busy collaborating with visual artist Enrique Martinez Celaya on a commemorative art book. Released in 2006, Cowboy Junkies XX was a retrospective piece intended to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary. It featured original watercolors by Celaya, handwritten song lyrics, and photographs gathered from the bandmembers' personal collections. The band released a new album called At the End of Paths Taken in the spring of 2007, followed several years later by the announcement of the so-called Nomad Series, an 18-month cycle that aimed to produce four albums built around common (but separate) narratives. Renmin Park: The Nomad Series, Vol. 1 was released in 2010. Following closely on its heels was 2011's Demons: The Nomad Series, Vol. 2, a covers album featuring songs originally written by the late Vic Chesnutt, the band's longtime friend and occasional tourmate. The third volume, Sing in My Meadow, released later in 2011, featured a live, garage rock sound, while the fourth, The Wilderness, which appeared early in 2012, featured new songs and completed the ambitious Nomad Series project. A box set featuring all four Nomad Series albums, plus a disc of extras, also followed in 2012. In 2013, the band presented a recording of Toronto poet Scott Garbe's The Kennedy Suite, a song cycle centered on the 1963 assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. While only one song on the set is fully credited to the Cowboy Junkies proper, its various members participated throughout and Michael Timmins is listed as co-producer.
In August of 2015, Timmins announced another box set. Notes Falling Slow included remastered versions of three albums recorded during the first decade of the 21st century — Open, One Soul Now, and At the End of Paths Taken. It also featured a fourth disc of new recordings. Songs written for these three albums were left unfinished until this project was assembled. A video for the title track and "Cold Evening Wind" were pre-released that month, followed by a series of podcasts where Timmins discussed several songs. The box was issued at the end of October 2015. Three years later, Cowboy Junkies returned with All That Reckoning in July 2018, their first album of new material in six years. Michael Timmins explained in an interview that, "It’s 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 social (nee political) level." ~ Steve Huey & Steve Leggett