Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Cowsills: “Rhythm Of The World” (2022) CD Review

This year’s Record Store Day list was released recently, and The Cowsills’ Rhythm Of The World is on it. Yes, in April, this album is being released on green vinyl. But for now you can pick it up on CD. The Cowsills began their recording career in the 1960s, having hits with songs like “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair,” none of which were written by the band. But the band members did write a lot of material as well. And this new album features all original material, with Paul Cowsill, Susan Cowsill and Bob Cowsill contributing material. This album is a family affair, with Susan Cowsill’s husband Russ Broussard on drums and percussion, Bob Cowsill’s son Ryan Cowsill playing organ and synthesizers, and Paul Cowsill’s son Brendon Cowsill on rhythm guitar. Mary Lasseigne, who plays in the Susan Cowsill Band, plays bass on these tracks.

The album opens with “Ya Gotta Get Up,” a song that urges us to seize the moment and be responsible for realizing our dreams. And fittingly it is a lively, rousing number. Here are its opening lines: “Waiting for what you believe should surely come your way/And hopin’ that the road ahead will turn a golden day/But you must see it’s up to you to do what you must do.” It can be a difficult lesson. This one was written by Paul Cowsill, Susan Cowsill and Bob Cowsill. As you might guess, this track features some excellent vocal work. But surprisingly, there is also a seriously cool instrumental section that begins with drums. Howard Kaylan, lead singer of The Turtles, makes a guest appearance on this track. “Ya Gotta Get Up” is followed by “Lend A Hand.” While the disc’s first song urges us to take control of our own lives, this one urges us to help others, which might be even more difficult to achieve. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Lend a hand to the people with the broken plans/Roll the window down and take a stand/If you can understand/Can you love your fellow man?” This one was also written by Paul Cowsill, Susan Cowsill and Bob Cowsill. “All we gotta do is find ways to come together for each other, one another/Love each other.”

A cold, harsh wind blows at the beginning of “Hawks On The Line,” another song written by the trio of Paul, Susan and Bob. There is a western vibe to this one, and the track features some really nice vocal work, particularly on the chorus. It is followed by “Every Little Secret,” which was written by the wife and husband team of Mary Jo Cowsill and Bob Cowsill. This one has a good pop sound. There is a certain Fleetwood Mac influence – not the early bluesy Fleetwood, but the more pop-oriented Fleetwood after Stevie Nicks joined the band. Interestingly, The Cowsills actually include a list of influences in the disc’s liner notes, and both Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks are on that list. You can hear that influence especially in the delivery of the line “Every little lie.”

“Nuclear Winter” has a power pop sound, another delightful surprise. This is one of my personal favorites. It was written by Peter Bunch and Bob Cowsill, who released a different version of it on their Channel 9 album (Channel 9 was the name they used for their band back in the 1980s). But from the lyrics, you’d think it had been written in the last several years. Check out these lines: “When the left says they’re right and the right thinks the left is to blame/I watch their anger grow/What if they lose control?/All I know is that things get a little bit worse every day/There’s something that’s going on/I get a feeling it won’t be long/‘Til the world is wound up so tight/It’s ready to break.” This is an excellent and powerful song that rocks, and has a punk edge at moments. At one point in the second half, the backing vocals chant, “Left right left right left right,” which is interesting. Normally you would take that for marching orders, but here it is also the division in this country between the so-called left and so-called right. What is also interesting is that those backing vocals don’t allow a pause between “left” and “right,” indicating that in some ways the two sides are much closer than either would like to admit. I highly recommend checking out this track.

Another of the disc’s highlights is “Rhythm Of The World,” the album’s title track, this one written by Susan Cowsill and Paul Cowsill. It is another strong track in the pop realm, with some really good vocals and memorable guitar work. “But please remember there’s this place where we live/It can’t take too much more/Something big’s gotta give/There’s a billion stars up in the sky/Telling all their secrets to the night.”  That’s followed by “Largo Nights,” written by Wayne Coy and Bob Cowsill. This one has something of a 1960s feel to it, which is perhaps more in line with what we might have expected from this group. Part of it is the presence of Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, played by Bob Cowsill. There is a sweet aspect to this song. “Friend said you were askin’/If I was around, baby, since you left/I’ve been askin’ about you too.”

The first time I listened to this album, as “Goodbye’s Not Forever” started, I opened the liner notes to check if John Lennon is mentioned as an influence on this song, and sure enough, he is. You can hear it in some of the vocal work. “I remember times when you were sayin’/For every bad turn a good turn turns your way then/We’ll look to the future/We’ll be side by side/I’m sorry if I made you cry/‘Cause goodbye’s not forever when it comes to you and me.” This one was written by Paul Cowsill. It is followed by “The Long Run,” which was written by Susan Cowsill and Bob Cowsill. This one also includes some work by Bob Cowsill on Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. “I was looking for a way to find a better place and time where I could deal with it all/I can only survive with you, I’ll bide my time, I don’t care for how long.” Then in “Try To Believe It Too,” they sing, “Well, could you lie and tell me you love me/That I am the only one for you/Could you tell a lie, then try to believe it too.” This track was written by Paul Cowsill and Bob Cowsill, and it has a bright pop sound, with something of early 1960s sound to the harmonies at times. The ending has an early rock and roll flavor too.

The album concludes with a much more serious number, “Katrina,” written by Bob Cowsill. Hurricane Katrina had a terrible impact on the Cowsills. Susan Cowsill and her family lost their home and most of their possessions. Even worse, Barry Cowsill died during the aftermath of the hurricane. This song is told from Barry’s perspective. It isn’t the first Cowsill song to address the hurricane and loss. On Susan Cowsill’s 2010 album Lighthouse, she included a powerful and personal song titled “Crescent City Sneaux,” in which she sings, “All our precious hearts were all shattered/Scattered across the land/But I knew that I was going back/To a place where I know who I am/Holding all our memories in one hand/So tight that you won’t ever, ever, ever let 'em go/And in the other hand we pray.” This new song is also powerful, the music recreating the tension and terror of that day. “I heard crashing everywhere, I couldn’t see but heard the wind howl, all around me was the darkness/With a sound you’ve never heard, she was blowing out the windows and taking out NOLA/The sky sounded out just like an explosion, and that’s when the rains came, that’s when the rains came, that’s when the rains came.”

CD Track List

  1. Ya Gotta Get Up
  2. Lend A Hand
  3. Hawks On The Line
  4. Every Little Secret
  5. Nuclear Winter
  6. Rhythm Of The World
  7. Largo Nights
  8. Goodbye’s Not Forever
  9. The Long Run
  10. Try To Believe It Too
  11. Katrina

Rhythm Of The World was released on September 30, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

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