New Orleans Times-Picayune

Susan Cowsill hopes to let her ‘Lighthouse’ CD shine

Susan Cowsill’s goal for her new “Lighthouse” CD is simple.

She wants people to hear it.

Cowsill’s decades-long career stretches from her childhood with The Cowsills, the family band that notched several national hits in the late ’60s, to fondly remembered local roots rock collective the Continental Drifters.

But she has only one previous CD under her own name, “Just Believe It.” Due in part to unfortunate timing — the national release date fell weeks after Hurricane Katrina — it did not reach the audience she, and many critics, thought it deserved.

With “Lighthouse,” she hopes to “do something other than just make my own music, put it out and everybody say how great it is. I’d like it to serve a purpose. The game plan is to reach as many people as possible.”

Cowsill’s “Lighthouse” CD release party on Saturday, May 8 is part of Carrollton Station’s 30th anniversary celebration, which kicks off on Friday, May 7.

She has a history with the club, going back to the Continental Drifters and her long-standing Sunday night residency with then-husband Peter Holsapple.

“It might not be as convenient as other clubs, but it has soul, and it has heart,” Cowsill said. “It’s such a warm and welcoming environment. Until I’m playing with a symphony, I’ll probably just play there, and be happy about it.”

In early 2005, Cowsill pitched Carrollton Station owner Eric Orlando on the idea of performing a classic album in its entirety every month. The popular “Covered in Vinyl” series was born.

On Nov. 5, 2005, Cowsill returned to Carrollton Station for the first “Covered in Vinyl” show since embarking on her Katrina exile.

The featured album? Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Band on the Run.”

Meanwhile, the storm steamrolled “Just Believe It.” Cowsill first released it locally and overseas in November 2004. A more ambitious national release, coordinated with a tour and other promotional activities, was scheduled to kick off in early fall 2005.

By then, the storm had rendered Cowsill and her family homeless. Their temporary homes included Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and her husband/drummer Russ Broussard’s native southwest Louisiana. Her brother Barry was still missing in New Orleans; months later, his body would be found along the Mississippi River.

Promoting a CD was not a priority. Cowsill recalled sitting in the parking lot of a yarn store in Lafayette on the album’s release date.

“My mother-in-law had decided that instead of going insane, we were all going to learn to knit,” Cowsill said. “A friend of mind called and congratulated me. I’m like, ‘Valerie, what are you talking about?’ And then I went, ‘Oh, right, the record.’”

She’d invested much time and effort, not to mention her meager financial resources, on the CD. “It was everything, and it became secondary. Which is insane, when I think about what we put into it.”

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico notwithstanding, she is determined that “Lighthouse” not disappear in the wake of a disaster.

She started writing it in the weeks and months after Katrina. “I just could never finish anything. We couldn’t even finish thoughts and sentences, never mind an entire song or album.”

She and Broussard ended up co-writing most songs. The arrangements and feel recall the full-band version of the Indigo Girls.

The disc opens with “Dragon Flies,” a spry romp laced with violin. Elsewhere, Cowsill downshifts to play up the yearning in her voice. Members of her family harmonize on the Barry Cowsill composition “River of Love.” Her buddy Jackson Browne lends vocal support to “Avenue of the Indians.” Brothers Jack and Sam Craft contribute cello and violin; they also anchor Cowsill’s touring band, along with Broussard and bassist Mary Lasseigne.

Broussard conjured the title “Lighthouse.” “It was like ‘Rosebud,’” Cowsill said of the eureka moment. “These songs are about trying to find your way back home.”

At the time, she didn’t have a song named “Lighthouse.” So she married a piece of piano music written years ago to new lyrics about a lighthouse off the Rhode Island coast, where she grew up.

“Lighthouse” was released via Threadhead Records, the nonprofit coalition of New Orleans music fans that funds recordings with loans. A newly assembled team will promote “Lighthouse” to radio stations and publications around the country.

“Those are things that we’ve never had before,” Cowsill said. “I’d like it to reach people other than just my neighbors. (The CD) is a bit of a survivors’ guide 101. I think people would be moved by it.”

New Orleans Times-Picayune
By Keith Spera, The Times-Picayune
May 07, 2010, 6:05AM

Music writer Keith Spera can be reached at kspera@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3470.

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