Newspaper Articles

Susan Cowsill bids farewell to her 'Covered in Vinyl' series
by Keith Spera
February 11, 2011
The Times-Picayune
New Orleans, Louisiana

In the past six years, singer Susan Cowsill and her band have performed more than 40 classic albums during their monthly “Covered in Vinyl” series at Carrollton Station. They started off with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and have covered The Beatles, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Mamas & The Papas, and dozens more.

For the first post-Katrina “Covered in Vinyl,” in November 2005, Cowsill and her husband/drummer, Russ Broussard, fresh off a rambling evacuation, rendered Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run.”

During the past year, attendance for the shows tapered off. Thus, this Saturday’s retrospective, culling favorites from throughout the series, will be the final edition, save a possible Jazz Fest week return. “Covered in Vinyl,” Cowsill says, “was the perfect combination of what should happen, what could happen and what does happen.”

Cowsill and Broussard launched the "Covered in Vinyl" series in June 2005 at the suggestion of a former manager, who thought the gimmick might draw new fans unfamiliar with Cowsill's work. Since the dissolution of the Continental Drifters, their fondly remembered roots rock ensemble, they've collaborated on their own band built around Cowsill's bewitching voice and songs, showcased on her 2004 solo album "Just Believe It" and last year's "Lighthouse."

"It was a way to get more people to hear our original music, " Cowsill has said of "Covered In Vinyl." "A lot of people didn't know who I was but were big Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens fans."

They typically opened the show with original music, followed by the featured album and then more original songs. "Most of the time, most of the people stay, " Cowsill said. "So it's a way of packing the house and having a captive audience to share your music with."

Featured albums are recreated as faithfully as possible. Cowsill and Broussard researched lyrics and chords online, drew up charts, and soaked up the CD in the car stereo. A six-hour rehearsal and full run-through followed.

"I like to really learn it, then let it go, " Broussard said in 2006. "Sometimes it takes on a life of its own, other times it's pretty accurate to the recording. The whole point is to pick out good albums that are fun to learn and play as they are. Otherwise, they're not that good if, right from the start, you want to do your own thing with it."

Their self-imposed "Covered in Vinyl" eligibility requirements were simple: The given album must have originally been released on vinyl and must represent some sort of breakthrough for the artist.

"For Neil Young, it was 'Harvest,' even though that's not everybody's favorite record," Cowsill said. "Joni Mitchell had a million records before 'Court & Spark,' but that one brought her into the mainstream."

Cowsill knew "Rumours" but was not as familiar with such selections as U2's "The Joshua Tree" or Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album. "Thank God it comes from an era when there were only eight songs" on an album, she said. "I knew four or five of them -- you'd have to have been on Mars not to -- so I only have to learn three or four."

Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends" was among the most challenging; the under-rehearsed band stumbled over the two-part harmonies. The Beatles' "Rubber Soul" was also tough.

"In the middle of it, you're going, 'Why did we do this?' " Cowsill said. "Then when you're done, it's like, 'That was a blast.' They always come out fine, like Christmas trees: No matter which one you pick out, they always come out beautiful."

Intimate involvement with classic albums informed Cowsill's own music.

"I've learned a ton, from singing to songwriting, " she said in 2006. "If you're hooked on a record, odds are a lot of your music will come out with that influence. To have all these different things stuck in my brain has been very inspiring."

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