Cowboy Junkies, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

It would be myth-making mischief to suggest that, upon its release 20 years ago, The Trinity Session was acclaimed as a landmark album. The best you could say is that its narcotic lo-fi blend of The Velvet Underground and the ghosts of country, blues and jazz, offered eclectic pleasures to a select few.

In hindsight, there is an argument that it ushered in a whole new genre of music – alt.country. Today, there are countless bands combining a country twang and a spirit of melancholia with the sound of the psychedelic underground, from Giant Sand and Mazzy Star to Lambchop and Sparklehorse. And it's arguable that none of them would be doing so if the Cowboy Junkies (and Neil Young) had not done it first.

The Cowboy Junkies' influence is apparent throughout this re-imagining of their finest album: part of the Don't Look Back's latest series, in which performers are invited to perform a classic album in its entirety.

The passage of time has brought them a new self-confidence. Margo Timmins' vocals have grown in volume and power, while her band – brothers Michael and Peter on guitar and drums, Alan Anton on bass – have developed into an intuitive unit that recognises each other's strengths.

Joined here by Jeff Bird on harmonica, mandolin and vocals, Ryan Adams on guitar and vocals, and guest singer Thea Gilmore, they make the 1987 original sound like a blueprint for its 21st-century version.

But the night's magic is in the symbiosis of the performers. "Misguided Angel" swings like a dyspeptic waltz, Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" goes beyond sadness and regret to desolation and despair, while "Sweet Jane" is heartbreaking enough to bring tears to the eyes.

It's on their own "Working on a Building" that the synergy of the ensemble reaches its trance-like apotheosis, before the sexual yearning of "Postcard Blues" presages the post-coital comedown of "Walking After Midnight" in which Patsy Cline's search for a lost lover is reimagined as a spiritual quest.

"Sun Comes Up, it's Tuesday Morning", and "Cause Cheap is How I Feel" (dedicated to the stalls, who are left standing due to a ticket mix-up) demonstrate that the Cowboy Junkies can do joy and humour, when it suits them. But no one makes misery sound quite so beautiful.

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