The circumstances of Barry Cowsill’s death were lost in the fog of Katrina. He stayed in town, reached out to his family on September 1, and his body was identified in a Baton Rouge morgue that December. He had been found in the Mississippi River, but how he got there and what happened in his last days remain a mystery. U.S. 1, a posthumous album includes a photo of one of the artifacts from that period – a sign that was nailed to a tree in Audubon Park that reads, “In honor of Barry Cowsill, a true genius who died on the levee 9-2-05.”
U.S. 1 doesn’t make the case that Cowsill was a genius, but it is a fine reminder that he could take completely conventional pop materials and still make something special. Occasionally he’d work in an odd piece of language (“bivouac”) or an unusual line (“Love is the dying-est word in town”), but songs such as “Chain You Down,” “Little Bit of Lovin’ “ and “Goin’ Home” work with commonplace parts from concept to melody. That he made you care anyway was a testament to his talent, and the urgency in his voice helped a lot.
U.S. 1 also suggests that Cowsill wasn’t a fast writer. Over half of the songs had been recorded before, six of them on As Is from 2001, and while the versions aren’t markedly different, the band is more sympathetic on As Is. His songs were written so that his voice and guitar did most of the work, but the U.S. 1 band does little more than follow him, which means the tracks sound like good demos. Still, they’re good songs and good demos. Until someone gets A. Is back in print, it’s nice to have something to document Cowsill’s art in the final stages of his life.