Friday, 14 November 2014

50 albums to take to my grave #14: The Trinity Session

An album notable for a number of reasons. It's one of the slowest, quietest records I own, and the fact I fell for it aged just 17 amazes me to this very day. A waaaay too mature choice for me back then. It also marks a watershed moment in the movement that would become dubbed Alt Country.

I'm sure you know the story - Cowboy Junkies gathered in a local church and recorded some songs live to a DAT recorder in one evening using just one microphone. The result was beyond belief. Whether it was intentionally understated, or it just turned out that way, it matters not; 'The Trinity Session' is altogether warming and haunting. Original compositions nestled comfortably alongside covers of traditional American folk songs and country classics. 25+ years on, it is still regarded as a remarkable achievement.

I was initially taken in by the single, Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis) - a dark re-write of Blue Moon -  which I saw on The Chart Show one Saturday afternoon, that was enough to tempt me to buy the album. It was certainly different to every other record in my collection at the time, but it got an awful lot of plays. I suppose being raised in a house where quite a bit of country and western was aired kind of made it less alien to me, but even so this wasn't country music like I'd heard it before. Even now I find it entrancing, hypnotic. It's the sound of a late, lazy jam when you don't want to disturb the neighbours.

Opening with Mining For Gold, a folk song performed a capella by Margo Timmins, we're taken on a dreamy, plaintive journey through the heartlands of American music - love, despair, sadness and life's hardships set to a rumbling backdrop of country and blues. Misguided Angel, one of the original tracks, is not only a highlight, but a mission statement. It's dark and disconcerting, a tale of love in an abusive relationship:

  Misguided Angel hanging over me.
  Heart like Gabriel, pure and white as ivory.
  Soul like Lucifer, black and cold like a piece of lead.
  Misguided Angel, love you ’til I’m dead.

I remember playing this album in the car when I picked my grandparents up from the train station one weekend. I wanted something that wouldn't stress them out. Looking back, it perhaps wasn't exactly appropriate, lyrically at least. These are not happy songs. We get Hank Williams' heartbreaking I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, a version that I have to this day struggled to find a match for; To Love Is To Bury is a mournful tribute to a dead lover; and another lost love is the subject of Walkin' After Midnight, a take on Patsy Cline's breakthrough hit.

And then there's Sweet Jane. Typically, rather than covering the well-known version, the Cowboy Junkies decided to tackle the early version captured on the Velvet Underground's live album 'Live 1969'. The "la-la-la" interlude actually lightens the mood a little, if only briefly, but nonetheless Lou Reed cited it as the best cover of one of his songs he ever heard.

Overall, 'The Trinity Session' was an experiment that worked so, so well it makes you elated in spite of its somewhat gloomy tone. It's as if the setting really helped things - the lo-fi recording, the church acoustics, the lateness of the hour. It was a one-off. This is perhaps confirmed by the band's attempt to replicate the whole thing 20 years later - heading back to the same location to play the same songs and record the whole thing over again with a few special guests in tow. It really didn't work second time around and only served to illustrate the remarkable uniqueness of the original.


  1. I got into it at about the same age. Really good record
    swiss adam

  2. I still remember buying The Trinity Session when it came out and, to this day, it still remains one of my all time favourite albums. Misguided Angel is just stunning, the whole album is but that track in particular is simply stunning...