Susan recounts the discography: The Rain, the Park and Other Things, We Can Fly, Indian Lake, Hair, and you can almost hear the refrain drifting on the salty autumn air.
“Flowers in her hair. Flowers everywhere. Was she a reality, or just a dream to me?”
Only seven, she joined the band two months after The Rain, the Park and Other Things forever defined the summer of an entire generation. It’s a writer’s dream to be given the opportunity to recount an artist’s telling of the beginnings of her career and the soundtrack of an era. But, there is another story surfacing that has been lost. It’s the story of too many artists who are bought and sold down the river by record companies, deep pockets, pressure to perform no matter what, and artistry that is either ignored or subject to the whimsy of news arcs.
In 2004, New Orleans resident Susan Cowsill released her first effort as a solo artist on Euro Solo as part of a European distribution deal. It wasn’t until October of 2005 that Just Believe It was available for distribution in the United States. Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, All Music Guide and others raved about the writing, the musicianship, the vocals, the arrangements and the “emotional truth” of the compilation.
Rolling Stone claimed Just Believe It offered “the hardy, heartbreaking sound of a bar band angel.” The Washington Post shouted, “As good as Cowsill’s voice is, her smart emotional songwriting is her biggest asset.”
And the CD tanked. So what happened?
The soundtrack of Katrina happened and dominated all things media. How does a musical artist compete with Katrina?
Susan recalled being a virtual refugee in October 2005 when promoters called her with the good news of the CD release in the United States and expected her to tour. Her enthusiasm for the project became an elusive muse. In October of 2005, Susan Cowsill’s beloved brother Barry went missing, ultimately a victim of Katrina. Her life was consumed with scouring phone text messages for clues as to Barry’s whereabouts. Her kids hoped to go home to the orange juice left sitting on the kitchen table of a home that wasn’t a home anymore and just wanted to get their cat back.
The reality is that CD’s don’t sell without grueling touring and media attention driven by the pockets of the promoters. No tour equals no promotion. There was no way Cowsill could tour and promote what is most likely the best work of her life—a project that took two years to complete, untold financial risks, and would not exist without the love and support of the couple of hundred friends who are listed on the CD’s cover insert.
So, is Just Believe It that good?
Go buy it now. Buy it if you remember the Summer of Love and even if you don’t, or are too young, you will not be disappointed.
Listen right on through and the music will tell you a beautiful story. Or, listen through once and find yourself hitting replay again and again on Track 7, Nanny’s Song, while a mournful cello and the angelic voice of Lucinda Williams provide powerful support to Susan Cowsill’s strong, seasoned voice--the soaring voices of women covering a beautiful, prophetic lyric.
“I was born with a broken heart; it’s not a pretty way to start. But, I don’t want to leave this earth; I don’t want to let it go. It’s real life that sets you free.”
If that isn’t good enough, the ghost bonus tracks are worth the patience. We won’t give it away, but there is a hidden iconic track that will absolutely carry you away and should be released by some record executive with any sense and who wants a mega hit right now.
This CD is can’t be defined by the straight jacket known as “genre.”
Just Believe It is part country, rock, pop, and a touch of folk that shows Susan Cowsill’s writing chops as well. She wrote or co-wrote everything (not the “secret” ghost track) except the old Sandy Denny folk classic, Who Knows where the Time Goes, and the singing here blows the Judy Collin’s version out of the water. The rocker comes out in Talkin’ when the vocal puts it to an ex-lover: “The last thing I need at the end of my day is to hear about you talkin' s*** around town.”
Quite simply, debut albums are rarely as moving, as revealing, or as accomplished as Just Believe It, and while it may have taken Susan Cowsill nearly 35 years to get to this point in her career, the results are more than worth it -- this is masterful music from a major talent."
June 30-July14, 2005
Hurricane Katrina hit Susan Cowsill’s hometown of New Orleans on August 29, 2005.
Carrolton Station--Home to New Orleans Singer/Songwriters
Cowsill is also a former member of the Continental Drifters, and the Psycho Sisters, along with Bangle Vicki Peterson. Visitors to New Orleans can see her at Carrollton Station, where the Susan Cowsill Band performs the “Covered in Vinyl” series on the first Saturday of every month.
Visit www.carrolltonstation.com and learn how these efforts support musicians who were affected by the hurricanes of 2005.
Purchase Just Believe It at Amazon.com, iTunes, or visit the website at www.susancowsill.com.
(More with Susan Cowsill and Russ Broussard next month)
Georgianne Nienaber has been an investigative environmental writer for more than thirty years and wrote a column for the Rwandan New Times. She lives in rural northern Minnesota. Recent articles have appeared in India's TerraGreen, COA News, The Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Africa Front, The United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer, AllAfrica.com, and Zimbabwe's The Daily Mirror. Her fiction exposé of insurance fraud in the horse industry, Horse Sense, was re-released in early 2006. Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was also released in 2006. She recently worked on the Coleen Rowley for Congress campaign, doing press and campaign events and just returned from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in DRC as a MONUC-accredited journalist. Nienaber got acquainted with the music biz at Chicago's WLS radio after college and before Africa grabbed her attention. Her first interview was with Grace Slick who reminisced about her days as a card punch operator before Jefferson Airplane took her away.