Hooked on Junkies: The Cowboy Junkies play a free show at the Levitt Shell

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Margo Timmins
  • Margo Timmins
They say you never forget your first, and it's true. I bought my first CD player at Goldsmith's in 1992 and went to some record store in the Mall of Memphis and bought two CDs: Small Change, a Tom Waits classic, and Black Eyed Man by The Cowboy Junkies which was hot off the presses. A recent break-in had seriously depleted my music collection so for months these discs and a handful of cassette tapes were all I had to listen to. And I never got tired of them.

The Cowboy Junkies made a name for themselves in 1988 with The Trinity Session, a fantastic collection of songs recorded at Ontario's Church of the Holy Trinity. It's still widely considered to be the band's most important recording, and "Sweet Jane", a quaalude-country take on one of the Velvet Underground's definitive songs—is probably still the group's best known cut. But for my money, it's all about Black Eyed Man and I hope to hear many of those songs when the group plays a free concert at The Levitt Shell on Saturday, June 12.

Black Eyed Man had me in its thrall from the opening guitar licks of "Southern Rain" and held me there all the way through the mournful joy of Townes Van Zandt's "To Live is to Fly," which is one of the greatest songs about the ephemera of life as seen through the eyes of a touring musician. Unsurprisingly Margo Timmins— a Canadian Nico who was once singled out as one of the most beautiful people in the world by People Magazine— managed to milk every ounce of love and frustration from Van Zandt's lyrics. "I'll miss the system here, the volume's low and the treble's clear," she crooned turning everything into metaphor. "We all got holes to fill. And them holes are all that’s real. Some fall on you like a storm. Sometimes you dig your own."

There wasn't a song on Black Eyed Man that didn't speak to me. Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park reminded my of how news spread when I was growing up in small town America. "The Last Spike" which washed over me like some ghostly answer to "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" was a painfully personal reminder of that same small town experience.

Oh sure, I want to hear "Misguided Angel," and the CJ's slow burn take on "Blue Moon." I love their version of "Working on a Building," and I'll be among the first to flick his Bic when they launch into the opening chords of "Sweet Jane." But I'm holding out for "This Street, That Man, This Life" and "A Horse in the Country" in which Timmins sings, "Sometimes you meet someone and your guts just burn." I know that feeling too well. I felt it when I first stumbled across a used copy of Whites Off Earth Now sometime in the late 80's. And I feel it today in anticipation of finally—after years of listening—knowing that I'm going to see the Cowboy Junkies live.

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