The Cowboy Junkies will have a busy second half of the year as they start work on a new album of original material and begin plans to celebrate their 20th anniversary. But this February, the Canadian band found itself with quite a bit of down time.
So much so that the Junkies decided to meet for five days in their rehearsal space with each member bringing four or five songs that had to do with the war in Iraq.
"We all feel really strongly about the American war that's going on," said bassist Alan Anton from his home in Victoria, British Columbia. "We had an idea to put this record together, and we were just going to release it over the Internet, but our record company wanted to put it out. So it turned into something bigger."
"Early 21st Century Blues," their 16th record, came out in May and includes: covers of Bruce Spring-steen, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, U2 and Richie Havens; two traditional songs; and two new songs by guitarist and singer Michael Timmins.
"The hard part was trying to stay away from the obvious songs that everybody knew," Anton said. "There were quite a few songs that I had forgotten about. The Richie Havens one ("Handouts in the Rain"), for instance, is probably the song with the strongest anti-war lyrics out of all of them.
"There's a Pink Floyd song, 'Us and Them,' and a Lou Reed song on the 'New York' album that I thought would work but didn't quite happen," he said. "It's surprising what you think you can do, and what you end up being able to do."
The Junkies will play quite a few songs off "Early 21st Century Blues" during their 10 p.m. Friday show at Marlintini's Lounge. Tickets are $25 in advance at Capital Records or at the bar and $30 at the door.
The show also will include material from almost every album in their 20-year career. This is their first trip to Alaska, business or pleasure. Their repertoire includes about 45 songs.
"I don't think there's anything we don't touch," Anton said. "We're pretty much all over the place."
In 1985, singer Margo Timmins joined her brothers, guitarist Michael and drummer Peter, and bassist Anton, in an unnamed jam band in Toronto. They started calling themselves Cowboy Junkies, and in 1986 they released their first record, "Whites Off Earth Now!" on their own label, Lament.
That record earned them a major-label deal with RCA, with whom they released four albums and two of their best-known - 1988's "The Trinity Session," including their hit cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," and 1993's "Pale Sun, Crescent Moon." They were signed to Geffen from 1996 to 1998, before they re-formed their own label in 2000.
"We learned the business through being on the label and working with managers, and that got to the point where we felt we could do a better job. Now we basically do everything. It's a lot of work, but its way more satisfying than having to yell at other people. It's kind of like being your own boss. When you focus on what you want, you think about what you can do for the band."
The 20th anniversary celebration could stretch over the course of two years. The plans are to release two or three books, one of which will likely be a book of paintings inspired by the band's lyrics. The band also hopes to film some sort of documentary.