Music listeners of a certain age (read: old) are sure to remember The Cowsills, the mother-and-kids act from the ’60s that dominated the charts with sunshine Pop hits like “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and their effervescent take on “Hair.” They were ultimately the real-life template for The Partridge Family television series.
Susan Cowsill was the youngest, the only girl and the one with the highest musical profile of the family in adulthood. In addition to timed logged with Dwight Twilley’s band and acclaimed Roots Rock supergroup Continental Drifters with ex-husband/dB Peter Holsapple, current husband Russ Broussard and sister-in-law/Bangle Vicki Peterson, Cowsill also launched her solo career in 2005 with the impressive and rightly lauded Just Believe It.
Cowsill’s sophomore solo effort, Lighthouse, comes with an excess of heavy baggage. Cowsill and Broussard lost nearly everything after Hurricane Katrina, her brother Barry drowned either during the storm or in its aftermath and brother Bill died at his home in Canada as the family was holding Barry’s memorial service in New Orleans. That heaviness informs a certain portion of the songs here, from the painful reality of “The Way That It Goes” to the resigned baroque Folk/Pop determination of “Real Life” to her sparse yet emotionally powerful take on Jimmy Webb’s classic “Galveston.”
But the album’s hopeful title is Lighthouse, a beacon that guides weary, storm-tossed travelers back home to safety. As much as the album is informed by Cowsill’s recent darkness, it is also an instrument of her healing, as evidenced by the heartbreaking ode to perseverance in “Could This Be Home” and the wistful yet hopeful title track. But nowhere is that spirit typified better than in her soaring and triumphant reading of her brother Barry’s bittersweet composition “River of Love,” featuring harmony vocals from her surviving brothers Bob, Paul and John and brilliant guitar work from session icon (and former Cowsills guitarist) Waddy Wachtel.
Lighthouse is the album that smiles through Susan Cowsill’s tears, and even though her heartbreak has given birth to something beautiful and affecting, here’s hoping her next album’s inspirations come from a much brighter place.