COWBOY JUNKIES is a band succeeding with simplicity. With one of the most refreshing sounds in popular music today, the Canadian country-folk-blues group has become a unique musical sensation. The members exude quiet and contemplative moods with their subtle arrangements and hushed vocals. And in a pop-rock world, where soft and slow music can easily be snuffed out, they have achieved a high level of recognition with both critics and listeners.
Their music has been dubbed ``post-modern melancholy,'' falling somewhere between Emmy Lou Harris and the Velvet Underground, and it has proved to be a welcome change on the charts.
Playing a sold-out concert at the Berklee Performance Center here recently, Cowboy Junkies delivered an outstanding set of songs from ``Trinity Session,'' their first major-label album, as well as from a coming album recorded at the end of April.
In keeping with their pared-down sound, the Junkies have always opted for modest production in a tranquil atmosphere. ``Trinity Session'' on Billboard's album chart for four months, was recorded in one day in a Toronto church. Their new album was recorded in three days in Sharon Temple, an old Quaker church in northern Ontario. Peter Moore, the band's producer, employed just one microphone for both albums; no over-dubs, song edits, or post-production mixing. What you hear is what you get.
Likewise, what you hear on the album is basically what you could expect live - a delightfully mellow show with simple charm. The dark stage was set for peaceful ambiance: lighted candles, Oriental rugs, a small, lace-covered table topped with a vase of flowers. Hearing the group open with ``Blue Moon,'' one could sense why their sound has become the rock-and-roller's lullaby, a sad and sweet calming agent.
Singer Margot Timmins maintained a commanding yet humble stage presence. Gracefully, she sang in her trademark resonant whisper, sometimes turning her back to the audience to watch her six bandmates: brothers Michael and Peter Timmins on guitar and drums, Alan Anton on Bass, Jeff Bird on mandolin, fiddle, harmonica; Kim Deschamps on pedal steel, lap steel; and Jaro Czerwinec on accordion.
Clearly the band has gained more confidence since its Boston debut in January. The members seemed more comfortable and cohesive on stage; happier.
Returning applause with ``Thank you, thanks a lot,'' the willowy Ms. Timmins talked and jested between songs. She told of a man who gave her roses during one concert and later, backstage, admitted to stealing them. ``This song is dedicated to him,'' she said, smiling. ``It's called `Cheap is How I Feel.'''
Later she introduced ``Mariner's Song,'' one from their new album - on which they ``might have even spent $1,000.'' (``Trinity Session'' cost a mere $250.)
One of the group's strong points remains cover songs. It played Lightin' Hopkins's ``Shining Moon,'' Robert Johnson's ``Me and the Devil,'' Patsy Cline's ``Walking After Midnight,'' and as an encore Neil Young's ``Powderfinger.'' In fact, the band's hit single is a cover of Lou Reed's ``Sweet Jane,'' which Mr. Reed himself has endorsed.
Cowboy Junkies will play in San Francisco June 6; Los Angeles June 8; and San Juan Capistrano June 9.