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Review: Susan Cowsill, Lighthouse

Susan Cowsill
Lighthouse
[Threadhead Records (2010)]

Susan Cowsill, the youngest member of late-1960s family pop group The Cowsills, has continued to mature in the public eye both on her own and as a member of New Orleans-based super-group, the Continental Drifters. With her second solo CD, Lighthouse, the Canton, Ohio-born and Newport, Rhode Island-raised songstress poetically chronicles her greatest spurt of growth.

Writing after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed her home, leaving her temporarily homeless, and the deaths of her brothers Billy and Barry, Cowsill transformed the sorrow and darkness into a beacon of hope and personal triumph. Brothers Jack (cello, piano) and Sam (violin) Craft and Russ Broussard (her husband and drummer) shade her words, but Cowsill’s experiences make themselves known through her songs. Memories of her childhood, recalled fondly during the opening track, “Dragon Flys,” give way to songs about loss and grieve. She sings “Every curtain’s coming to a close, every story had its end” during “Sweet Bitter End”; reports “growing weaker everyday” during “Onola”; and laments that “this is the only place I’ve ever belonged and now it’s gone and I wanna go home” during “Could Be Home.” A haunting version of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” recalls a devastating flood in Texas. Jackson Browne, who participated in the album’s final mix and mastering, adds his distinctive vocals to “Avenue Of The Indians.”

She pays homage to the memory and influence of her brother Barry, who drowned during Katrina, with a rendition of his tune, “River Of Love.” The song features harmony vocals by Bob and Paul Cowsill and sister-in-law Vicki Peterson (of the Bangles and the Continental Drifters) and guitar playing of Waddy Wachtel, who began his career with the Cowsills.

Resilience and refusal to accept defeat permeate the CD. Belief in a light at the end of the tunnel strengthens the title track. An acceptance of reality, and a hope for the future, is heard as Cowsill sings “While you’re dreaming your dreams, you gotta keep on your toes,” during “The Way That It Goes,” and she proclaims “I will never give up,” during “River Of Love.”

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

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