For some 20 years, the Cowboy Junkies have been achieving the seemingly impossible: finding the common ground between early country, primitive blues and folk, and the art-punk of the Velvet Underground.
Though the group's sound is laid-back and dreamlike, and though vocalist Margo Timmins revels in a sleepy, anesthetized beauty, the Junkies' work is in fact rather radical. The emotionally detached, art-in-the-gutter cool of the Velvets stood in stark opposition to the more mannered, melodic and form-based structures of folk and country when the group emerged in the late '60s, and yet, without even seeming to break a sweat, the Junkies forced a new hybridization of these disparate influences.
That gauzy, slightly narcotic dreaminess informs the band's best work, be it a cover of the Velvets' own "Sweet Jane" or the haunted country-folk weeper "Misguided Angel," both of which imagined a new sonic and psychic space for what might loosely be called "alternative music" in the later '80s, and set the Junkies off on a journey that has continued -- with varying degrees of commercial success, but with consistent artistic value -- without interruption ever since.
On Thursday, the Cowboy Junkies return to the scene of a late-'90s triumph, the recently reopened Tralf, at 622 Main St. The band takes the stage at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27 and can be found at the Tralf box office or through www.Ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit www.tralfmusichall.com.
-- Jeff Miers