The Continental Drifters’ 1994 self-titled debut sent a minor tremor through the roots-rock world. The fabled supergroup of Mark Walton (Dream Syndicate), Vicki Peterson (Bangles), Susan Cowsill (of those Cowsills), Peter Holsapple (dB’s), Robert Maché (Steve Wynn) and drummer Carlo Nuccio had finally committed its five-songwriter attack to CD — but the band’s label, Monkey Hill, lacked widespread distribution. In short, it was a great album, if you could find it.
A fresh mix and remastering have graced it with a crisper, more vibrant sound, though comparisons to the band’s 1999 follow-up, Vermilion, are unavoidable. Where the latter disc’s seeping emotional breadth stretched from Holsapple’s passionately romantic “I Want To Learn To Waltz With You” to Cowsill’s edgy childhood reminiscence “Spring Day In Ohio” and Peterson’s “Who We Are, Where We Live” (a heart-stopper about losing her fiancé to leukemia), the debut seems content to merely rock out.
But it rocks with the best of them. The Walton-penned “Get Over It” highlights Cowsill’s raspy country wail as it blasts over a wall of tightly intertwined guitars. Holsapple’s “Invisible Boyfriend” finds him pouring out dense, melodic layers of slide guitar that bend and wind like old backroads.
Five of the eleven tracks are covers — a surprising choice for a band with such songwriting talent, but each one sounds like a definitive Drifters tune by the time they finish with it. Pat McLaughlin’s “Highway Of The Saints” takes on a spiritual “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” vibe as the musicians trade lead vocals. The Box Tops’ “Soul Deep” is transformed into a rough-hewn rave-up, and Gram Parsons’ “A Song For You” closes the album on a appropriate note of longing.
The biggest treats, though, are “Mezzanine” and “New York”, both penned and sung by Nuccio, who left prior to Vermilion. His New Orleans roots and raw vocals (perhaps the male equivalent of Cowsill’s) conjure up a wild Little Feat ruckus that the band lost with his departure.