1988's The Trinity Session was the album that established the Cowboy Junkies as a world-class band with a singular musical approach, but though there's little arguing that the musicians delivered the goods on the record, in many respects the album was a happy accident. Several of the guest musicians recruited for the project had never even met the Junkies prior to the recording session at Toronto's Trinity Church, and given the approach taken by the group and producer Peter Moore -- one take, one stereo mic, no overdubs -- good luck seemingly had as much to do with the album's slow and graceful drift and understated power as any careful design. It's difficult, maybe impossible to make lightning strike in the same place twice, and the Cowboy Junkies' decision to return to Trinity Church to record the same set of songs two decades later is a curious one, made all the more puzzling by the addition of several special guests -- in addition to the core lineup of Margo Timmins, Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, and Alan Anton, the group's return to Trinity Church also features Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, and Natalie Merchant, along with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird, who appeared on the original album. It's a testament to the Cowboy Junkies' lasting strength that Trinity Revisited works surprisingly well; the performances and arrangements rarely stray far from the tone or intent of the original album, but they never sound rote, and the easy but troubling narcotic flow of this music remains as hypnotic as ever. The "guest stars" for this session are firmly integrated into the performances, serving much the same function as the additional players on the 1988 recordings, and Merchant and Chesnutt display an admirable respect for the songs and their fellow musicians, though Adams' famous ego occasionally makes itself visible. And the songs hold up remarkably well, showing little wear after 20 years in the Cowboy Junkies' repertoire and revealing new angles as Adams, Chesnutt, and especially Merchant bend them to their voices, though Margo Timmins hasn't lost a bit of her gentle authority or her hold on the music. Trinity Revisited sometimes suggests that the Cowboy Junkies decided to record a Cowboy Junkies tribute album, but even though this isn't a radical departure from the 1988 original, the group still plays these songs beautifully and the skill and wonder of the performances prevent this from seeming like pointless nostalgia.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
Track Listing - Disc 1