Vancouver-based Blue Shadows released On The Floor Of Heaven back in the early nineties – not a particularly good time for twangy country-rock and unadorned musical honesty. Though critically acclaimed, it didn’t stay on the shelves very long.
Now Bumstead Records has revived the project with a loving re-master, releasing it as a two-disc package with an album’s worth of previously unissued tracks. It’s a welcome return for a masterpiece of loose yet impeccable harmonies and hardcore honky tonk, one that should by rights have reached a much wider audience the first time ‘round.
The Blue Shadows were led by the late Billy Cowsill (yes, once one of the bubblegum family band The Cowsills) and Winnipegger Jeffrey Hatcher, augmented by bassist Elmar Spanier and drummer J. B. Johnson. As an aggregate unit they’re a fine band, but it’s the glorious ragged-but-righteous harmonies of Cowsill and Hatcher that make this one so special. Packaging mentions such esteemed influences as the Everly Brothers and Gram Parsons as well as the Beatles (the sound is country but there’s an undeniable pop sensibility to the tunes). They’re all there, but the Blue Shadows never come across as derivative – they meld impeccable influences with a distinct yet decidedly timeless approach all their own.
Disc one contains the original release, recorded from 1992-1993, with all songs written by Cowsill and Hatcher. The duo’s originals are melodically irresistible songs of hurt and heartbreak, and the original outing seems to have been one of those ‘everything falling into place’ projects – the right musicians, the right songs, and most of all the right feel – with the result a virtually flawless collection.
The second disc, presumably a planned but ultimately interrupted follow up, is a little less cohesive, but there are gems to be found. A bit of a grab bag, it features a handful of covers, including Merle Haggard’s classic “If We Make It Through December” and a pair representing Canadian content – Joni Mitchell’s “Raised On Robbery” and Michel Paglario’s “What The Hell I Got.” (If you listened to radio at all in the 70’s you’ll likely remember the tune). Lacking the consistency of the first disc, it’s still a stellar group of songs.
The Blue Shadows may be little more than a footnote in musical history by now (Billy Cowsill passed away in 2006), but in its original incarnation, On The Floor Of Heaven stands as a great but sadly overlooked outing. The added material may not add to the band’s legacy but nothing on the second disc tarnishes it, either.
This one – especially disc one – is essential …!
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