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COWBOY JUNKIES: OPEN ROAD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Band:  Margo Timmins, Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, Alan Anton
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Latent Recordings/Zoe Records
Features:  Bonus CD
Length:  167 Minutes
Release Date:  June 25, 2002

“They dazzle with their color and their deftness through the air…
And then there’s the day we look for them and can’t find them anywhere.” – from “Small Swift Birds”

Program ***

I certainly hope that Open Road marks the kind of music DVD we’re going to see more of in the future…the inclusion of a bonus CD is quite cool!  More on that further down.

Cowboy Junkies have been a perennial favorite band of mine for better than a decade, with the soberly insightful songs of Michael Timmins accented by the haunting, beautiful vocals of sister Margo.  Rounding out the group is two more family members; brother Peter on drums and cousin Alan Anton on bass.  Once upon a time, these four musicians managed to create a sound that was unique and instantly engrossing:  it was quiet, yet powerful, dreamy, yet intense, with music and lyrics that reflected joy and pain with equal caution.

Even more amazing than creating a sound so original has been their ability to expand upon it and develop it album after album.  Each time you might think they can’t possibly come up with something new and different, the band surprises you by doing just that…yet even adding depth and scope to their sound never diminishes the ethereal beauty of the style they first crafted on the groundbreaking album The Trinity Sessions.

This DVD is a celebration of their latest acclaimed recording, Open.  It features four separate programs for a combined total of nearly three hours of music and insights into the band.  Some segments are better than others, but overall, and speaking as a dedicated fan, I found it to be an appropriate and good offering from the Junkies.

Two live performances are highlighted:  one is the full band playing at the Quebec City Summer Festival as filmed for television.  It contains eight songs, mostly from the newest album, but with a couple of older favorites as well, including “Anniversary Song” and the exquisite “Blue Moon Revisited”.  The other concert is Michael and Margo unplugged from The Temple…a little shorter, but in some ways, more intimate.  Margo has never looked more beautiful, and their set includes the masterful “Misguided Angel”.  I still remember the first time I heard that song, and how hooked I was from the opening words:  “I said mama, he’s crazy, and he scares me…”

There is a nearly hour long documentary of the Open Road tour that is sadly, much more style than substance.  I was expecting band member interviews and more significant behind the scenes footage…what I got instead was a meandering, padded collage of images and clips with no insights, a lot of still photographs, some road map effects, and such…if it weren’t for the clips of the Junkies playing live and the good music behind it, it might have been a complete disappointment.

But it’s made up for by the final segment, An Open Conversation with Margo and Michael Timmins, where the siblings DO get to share their thoughts on the music and words of the new album.  Even better are a few in-studio acoustic performances of three of the new songs.

As any fan might do, I can easily share praises for some of the music choices and mourn some of the omissions.  Considering it was the groups first DVD offering, I would have preferred a wider representation of music from their catalog instead of so many songs from Open, even as good as that CD is.  My two favorite Junkies’ records, Pale Sun Crescent Moon and Miles From Our Home are sadly under-represented, with only “Anniversary Song” and “Hollow as a Bone” featured respectively.  And oh, what I would have given to hear fresh live renditions of “Sweet Jane” and “Darkling Days”!

But, hey…this band has been around a long time, and I don’t see them vanishing anytime soon.  I look forward to more DVD offerings from the Junkies in the future, and console myself that there are still bound to be chances to hear and see more of my favorite music from them.

Video ***

This disc shows some of the typical limitations of video tape source material…colors are generally bright, but not always well contained, there’s occasional graininess in the darker images (especially during shots of the concert crowds), and the documentary is such a hodgepodge of clips that it’s hard to make an overall assessment of it!  Nevertheless, from my experience, music fans can accept these kind of limitations; they’ve certainly gotten used to the look of video over the years, and frankly, it looks better transferred to DVD than remaining on tape anyway, so I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt.

Audio ***

Though not labeled, the DVD appears to feature a 2 channel surround mix, which serves the music quite nicely.  The Junkies are often a quiet band, but they have their moments of raucousness that bring the dynamic range to the forefront.  Margo’s vocals sound sweet and crisp throughout, and even when alone with Michael, the sound is remarkably rich and full.

Features **

I pretty much have to consider the bonus live CD as an extra feature…very cool to have.  It features even more of my favorite songs like “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” and “This Street, That Man, This Life”, plus 8 other live tracks.  So this DVD offers you something to watch at home and something to take with you to listen…I hope we see more like this in the future!

Summary:

Cowboy Junkies have long been a favorite of mine, and I’m very pleased to see the group venturing out with their first DVD.  This generous offering combines 4 full programs and a bonus live CD, so Open Road is a title that’s bound to please fans of the band, and possibly even win them some new ones as well.