Susan Cowsill (Copyright Catherine Carter)
Susan Cowsill is perched on the front stoop of her home in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi, doing an interview about the wallop hurricane Katrina delivered to her family as well as the local music community. The conversation drifts to the iconic Summer of Love and when, exactly, she joined the Cowsills. Yeah, THAT Susan Cowsill.
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.
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