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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The Cowboy Junkies, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, Musikfest Café, ArtsQuest Center, Bethlehem. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The Cowboy Junkies, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, Musikfest Café, ArtsQuest Center, Bethlehem.

The Cowboy Junkies wear many musical hats

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by CAMILLE CAPRIGLIONE Special to The Press in Focus

The Canadian band, The Cowboy Junkies, emerged from the Toronto music scene with a blend of country, blues, folk and rock. The band, in which three of the four members are siblings, formed in 1985.

Their melodic cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" was used in the 1994 film, "Natural Born Killers," and was the group's highest-charting single in the United States, reaching No. 5 on the modern rock chart. The group is now on a tour of the northeast United States.

The Cowboy Junkies perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, Musikfest Café, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.

Michael Timmins, Margo Timmins, Peter Timmins and Alan Anton were influenced by musicians such as Lou Reed, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead. Their 1986 debut album, "'Whites Off Earth Now!!," was recorded in the family's garage.

The group's fame spread with its second LP, "The Trinity Album," recorded in 1987 at Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity. Their distinctive sound, with the use of an ambisonic microphone, earned them critical attention and a cult following. The Cowboy Junkies has released 25 studio and live albums. They've toured North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

In a recent phone interview from his home in Toronto, Michael Timmins spoke about what influence the fact that they're siblings has on the band's recordings and performances.

"It's hard to say," says Timmins. "It depends on the family. [For us] it works to a larger extent. We've been playing together for 35 years. Bands have lots of stress. They need to communicate on all levels. We relate well as brothers and sisters."

The group's most recent albums are "The Kennedy Suite," released last year, and "The Wilderness," released in 2012. How do these differ from the band's earlier recordings, Timmins was asked.

"Every record is different," Timmins says. "[They are] different stylistically. 'Wilderness' is volume four of 'The Nomad Series.' It's very folk-oriented."

The band likes to include acoustic sets in all of its live shows. When asked if they consider themselves to be primarily acoustic, Timmins says, "We're a five-piece band, so we're not just acoustic-oriented. We have bass, drums and vocals, even an electric mandolin. We like to mix it up."

Heartfelt ballads such as "Ring on the Sill" and "Unanswered Letter"; the dark tune, "Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park," and the haunting "Bullet For You," based on the Kennedy assassination, make listeners realize the songwriting depth of The Cowboy Junkies.

"Our songwriting has variations, and so many inspirations," says Timmins. "Some are based on truth, and some are complete fiction."