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Susan Cowsill - Just Believe It

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 4 / 3 / 2006



Susan Cowsill - Just Believe It
Label: Select Label
Format: CD

intro

Outstanding first solo album from Susan Cowsill, who as well as being a member of 60's group the Cowsills, and more recently the Continental Drifters, has also appeared on records by the likes of the Smithereens, Jules Shear and Kate Jacobs


In the latter part of the 60's William Cowsill assembled the group 'The Partridge Family' would be based on in the next decade. The group consisted of his wife, sons and seven year old daughter Susan. It’s one of life’s mysteries why 'The Partridge Family' met with great success in the U.K. but the Cowsills meant next to nothing here. It was different in the States. The group had a number one with ‘The Rain , The Park And Other Things’ and had a number of other singles and albums reaching the high parts of the charts. Part of the problem was that in the UK, at least, the group was derided by most people over the age of 14. Much like the Monkees, they were classed as a group that could only appeal to young kids. Strange how times change ! The Monkees are now accepted as an important part of that era and the songs they sang are no longer sneered at. It is now time for the Cowsills to be reassessed. Collectors Choice Records re-issued their ‘We Can Fly Album’ late last year and our very own El Records are releasing a compilation concentrating on the more psychedelic side of the group later this year. But be in no doubt, when the words psychedelic and Cowsills appear together the result is along the lines of the very English so called pop-sike and not our American cousins take on psychedelia. Susan Cowsill, therefore, couldn’t have picked a better time to release her first solo album. Although through the last 30 odd years it has been possible to find Susan’s exceptional singing on a number of albums this is the first time she has released an album under her own name. There were a couple of singles released in the early 70's, but you’d need more than good luck to track them down. For those who loved and remembered that voice it was always a pleasant surprise to see the name of Susan Cowsill in the credits of many albums. Dwight Twilley ansd the Smithereens were just two acts that benefited from Susan’s vocals. Then later Susan lent her vocals to outstanding albums by Jules Shear and Kate Jacobs. But still that solo album looked like it would never appear. But with Susan joining the Continental Drifters in the 90's it looked like, at last, she would get the recognition she deserved. Finally hearing some Susan Cowsill originals and with the band also having Peter Holsapple, Vicki Peterson and Robert Mache in its ranks the music they made was a glorious mix of folk-rock and Americana. But after a handful of excellent albums no more was heard from the band. But now we have the real deal, Susan’s first solo album. It would appear that there are two versions of the album released. One has 14 tracks and the other 16. Try to track down the 16 song version. The two extra songs are incredible and worth the price of the album alone. One, ‘Mr. Everything’, is an original and is a "hidden" track following on from the last song listed on the album. Why this song wasn’t part of the original album is mystifying. As with all Susan’s songs, the melody is stunning and Susan’s sweet vocals have never sounded better. The other "bonus" song is a cover of the Beach Boys ‘Don’t Worry Baby’. This song has been covered by everyone form Bryan Ferry to the Bay City Rollers and never has any version come close to capturing the beauty of the original. Until now that is. Susan drenches the song in perfect harmonies, and she turns in one of the best vocal performances of her long career. Her voice is sweet, aching and sexy all within the one song. If Brian Wilson and Roger Christian had said they had written the song for Susan to sing you’d believe them. It actually surpasses the Beach Boys original for beauty. Of the 14 songs actually listed on the album, Susan wrote or co-wrote all but one of them. The cover is of Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ and while Susan adds a bluesy touch to the song, and with her angelic vocals well to the fore making it an outstanding and lovely version, it’s far from the best song on offer here. It’s amazing that it’s taken Susan so long to release this album when she is capable of writing songs of the calibre of ‘Palm Of My Hand.' It has a killer melody and bright, chiming guitars and is just crying out to be covered by the likes of Bill Lloyd or Jamie Hoover. Ex Continental Drifter Vicki Peterson vocally helps out on it along with Adam Duritz. That song is followed by ‘Christmas Time’ and at last we have a seasonal song which would still sound good blasting out of a car stereo in the middle of a hot summer. Again, it’s Susan’s talent for writing glorious melodies which initially shines through. Just one listen to the title track, ‘Just Believe It’ will have you humming it for the day. But it appears that Susan isn’t just adept at writing strong melodies wrapped up in heavenly harmonies, chiming guitars and mandolins; on songs like ‘I Know You Know’ (complete with backwards guitar, and lines floating in at the end from The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’) and ‘Talkin’ Susan shows she can rock out with the best of them. Although at times Susan comes across like a sweeter Lucinda Williams (which is no bad thing) she can still take cutting swipes at ex-lovers. “ You sit around talking shit around town” from the aforementioned ‘Talkin’ is a good example. The fact that Susan wraps her anger in such sweet melodies makes the listener take notice. Much like the effect of when Aimee Mann curses in the last few lines of ‘(Believed You Were) Lucky’ or when Lucinda Williams does the same unexpected thing in ‘Three Days’ it’s a shock, totally unexpected but somehow it’s the only word to use to convey that feeling of loss. Anger coming from such sweet tunes is so powerful. Susan plays the same card on ‘Crazy’ a bluesy ballad where again Susan’s sweet vocals are betrayed by the lyrical content. Lucinda Williams has been mentioned a few times so it’s not too surprising that she actually adds her vocals to one song here. ‘Nanny’s Song’ starts off recalling Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ before Susan and Lucinda swap verses and harmonise like a couple of angels. It’s a heart-breaking tale of someone leaving “this earth” far too soon with far too much left to do. That Susan can skip from rock ‘n’ roll to folk-rock to blues and also break hearts with that voice (try listening to ‘Nanny’s Song’ with a dry eye, it’s almost impossible) makes this an outstanding debut. Susan proves without a doubt that she is a major talent with this album; we can only hope she doesn’t leave it so long to follow it up.



Track Listing:-
1 Wawona Morning
2 Palm Of My Hand
3 Christmas Time
4 Just Believe It
5 I Know You Know
6 Wawona Afternoon
7 Nanny's Song
8 Who Knows Where The Time Goes
9 Gazebo
10 Wawona Twilight
11 Talkin'
12 Crazy
13 White Light Of Winter
14 Wawona Night
15 Mr. Everything



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