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Susan Cowsill looks back and ahead with ‘Carpenters’-themed ‘Covered in Vinyl,’ new album, new tour with the Turtles
February 24, 2016
New Orleans Advocate
New Orleans, Louisiana

For eight years, Susan Cowsill recreated a classic album in its entirety every month at Carrollton Station as part of an ambitious series dubbed “Covered in Vinyl.”

“That got to be a quite a chore,” she confirmed this week.

And so she put the series on hiatus. But “Covered in Vinyl” has resumed at a new home, Chickie Wah Wah, where Cowsill and company are almost back to their monthly pace.

“I don’t want to say we’re doing it once a month because then we’d have to,” she said. “But it’s gotten a rebirth at Chickie Wah Wah. We have a whole new group of people” coming to the shows.

On Saturday, Cowsill and her collaborators will perform “Carpenters,” Karen and Richard Carpenter’s multimillion-selling third album. Originally released in 1971, it contains the hits “Superstar,” “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “For All We Know.” The show kicks off at 9 p.m., with the “Carpenters” segment commencing around 10 p.m.

“Carpenters” falls squarely in Cowsill’s wheelhouse. “Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Carole King and Karen Carpenter — those are the ladies I learned to sing from,” she said. “As a singer, we sing because it soothes our soul. But when I listen to Karen, I just want to pack my bags and go back to ninth grade and get another job. She’s so amazing. She’s like velvet. And she has a deep soul. I feel it when I listen.”

Unlike albums with male vocalists, Cowsill can sing material from “Carpenters” close to its original form. “ With the Carpenters, we didn’t even change the key,” Cowsill said.

That said, “We’re not a tribute band. We’re not trying to emulate verbatim. It’s our take on the music. Sometimes it comes out just like it, and sometimes it don’t.”

For this weekend’s “Covered in Vinyl,” Cowsill’s husband, Russ Broussard, will be on drums, as always. Joining them will be John “Papa” Gros on keyboards; Mary Lasseigne on bass; Sam Craft, of Sweet Crude, on strings, flute and “whatever extra sounds the album needs;” and Alexis Marceaux, also of Sweet Crude, on vocals. Marceaux insisted on taking part, as her parents raised her on a steady diet of Carpenters music.

“You go to who you think will best enjoy it, or who is the man, or woman, for the job,” Cowsill said of recruiting her collaborators. “Everybody loves doing them. It’s like being in a school play for the weekend.”

As a child in Rhode Island, Cowsill missed a lot of school plays. She was only 8 when she joined her older brothers and her mother onstage as the Cowsills. The group, the inspiration for TV’s “The Partridge Family,” scored a handful of hits in the late 1960s, including “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” a No. 2 single in 1967, plus “Indian Lake” and “Hair.” They toured extensively.

Post-Cowsills, Susan lived in Los Angeles for years, then settled in New Orleans as a member of the roots rock all-star band the Continental Drifters. Post-Drifters, she finally started recording albums under her own name.

She’s working on the follow-up to her 2010 release “Lighthouse.” With her own albums, she’s “a five-years-in-between kind of gal. I love writing my own music, but it’s a known entity. I like experimenting with whatever else is out there. I get going on a million other things. I tend to be the last thing I get back to,” Cowsill said.

For the new project, she’s working with A Fragile Tomorrow, two young producers who operate an indie record label out of Charleston, South Carolina. She’s started recording at Dockside Studio, outside Lafayette, and will do more recording in Charleston. “For anyone at my age and stage of the game, it’s all about having fun with music,” she said.

To that end, she’s writing music for a film with her buddy Vicki Peterson, fellow Psycho Sister and Continental Drifters alumnus. She and former Paul Revere & the Raiders singer Mark Lindsay, a friend since Cowsill toured with the Raiders as a child, will release a joint EP, “Love Is Strange,” this spring.

And for the second consecutive summer, the Cowsills are part of the Turtles’ nostalgic Happy Together Tour. Kicking off June 4 at the Golden Nugget casino in Lake Charles, the tour encompasses some 50 dates at theaters, amphitheaters, casinos and fairs. In addition to the Turtles and the Cowsills — Susan and brothers Bob and Paul — the roster includes the Spencer Davis Group, Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett of the Union and Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night.

“That pop-rock boom between 1966 and 1972, whatever that explosion was, we were part of it,” Cowsill said. “We had four hits, the same as everybody, but we were the red-headed stepchildren — we were 10 years younger than those other groups.”

She thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Turtles tour and not just because of the nice payday. “It’s like going to rock star camp. You’re on a tour bus again (instead of in a van), and somebody is getting you food and carrying your stuff. I don’t know where my guitar is until I get onstage. I do nothing but eat, travel and play.”

And sing old songs, making them new again

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