Music Review: Susan Cowsill releases new CD Lighthouse (May 8, 2010)
Lighthouse is only Susan Cowsill’s second CD as a solo artist, but it shows a depth and execution that eludes most artist’s sophomore efforts. There’s a reason for that; Cowsill has been performing and recording professionally for four decades, first with her family band, the Cowsills, and later with Dwight Twilley and numerous other bands as a sought-after studio backup singer. For several years, Cowsill found a musical home with the Continental Drifters, a singer-songwriter collective that included former members of the Bangles, the dBs, and Dream Syndicate. The group achieved critical acclaim but limited record sales, and when they decided to call it quits, Susan found herself entertaining the possibility of a solo career.
Cowsill’s first CD, Just Believe It, was a powerful debut, but promoting the CD and touring were sabotaged by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which left Cowsill and her husband, drummer Russ Broussard, homeless. The loss was compounded by the deaths of two of her brothers, Barry and Billy. In the process of picking up the pieces of her life, Cowsill found herself writing what were to become the songs of Lighthouse, although it was more for her own therapy than with any sense of making another CD. What she has achieved is something of a love song to her adopted home of New Orleans, as well as a road to redemption from the pains of life, past and present.
“Dragon Flys” opens the CD, an uptempo piece of reminiscence for her brother Barry. Cowsill also covers one of brother Barry’s own compositions, “River of Love,” itself an assertion of hope in the face of loss. Fans who remember the Cowsills will be thrilled by the harmonies on this track, contributed by brothers Bob, Paul and John, as well as deft guitar work by family friend and early collaborator with the Cowsills, ace session guitarist Waddy Wachtel.
Other highlights of the CD include “Avenue of the Indians,” which gets its name from the street where she and her brothers lived before they became famous. Cowsill often draws from memories of childhood experiences for her songs, and in this case she achieves a bittersweet blend of good memories tempered by the knowledge that those days are gone. Longtime friend Jackson Browne lends harmonies on this track.
“Could This Be Home,” “Onola,” and particularly “Crescent City Sneaux,” are inspired by Cowsill’s love for New Orleans, a love that brought her back and embraced her, like a prodigal daughter returned from her wanderings.
Instrumental support came from bandmates past and present. In particular, violin and cello from Jack and Sam Craft lend many of the songs a sweet soulfulness that hearkens back to classic pop songs of the sixties…something Cowsill knows a thing or two about. And while her songwriting is equally praiseworthy, it is Cowsill’s voice to which most people are drawn. Her achingly beautiful rendition of the Jimmy Webb classic “Galveston,” with it’s sparce instrumental accompaniment, reveals her voice as the expressive gift it is. Like the songs of Lighthouse itself, it is part little girl lost and part mature survivor of the storm.