Slide your glance between bandleader Billy Cowsill and his new guitarist Jeffrey hatcher and you’ll wonder if you’re not privy to an image circa 1967.
Hatcher’s smooth face, clear-eyed gaze and palpable promise echo Cowsill’s appearance when he lead the family pop group The Cowsill to such hits as Hair and The Rain the Park and Other things.
In this Dorian Gray-like pairing the Canadian up-and-corner contrasts poignantly with the now 44-year-old Cowsill, who still sings in fluid and angelic tones reminiscent of Ricky Nelson and The Everly Brothers, but sports a gaunt frame, weathered facial furrows and a cigarette welded between his lips.
But poignancy on all levels elevates a Billy Cowsill show from the realm of a decent mouldy oldies revue to an entertainment more meaningful.
After abandoning the distasteful schmaltz he was counselled into recording during the ‘60s. Cowsill apprenticed with Joe Ely, Harry Nillson and J.J. Cale in venues as far flung as Lubbock, Texas, the Northwest Territories and Vancouver, where he now lives.
Braced with such bonafide credentials, his roots of rock tributes have been immensely popular since the early ‘90s. Even now, his uncanny knack for mimicking the trill of Paul McCartney or the drawl of Hank Williams, electrifies melancholy pop the likes of I’m A Loser and his own If I Were You. The latter reminds us of his authenticity with the loaded line, “Look into a mirror, the truth is looking back at you, but do you think it’s rude to stare?”
Hatcher sings harmonies that either trace or hover serenely over Cowsill’s and he further fills each song’s instrumental pockets with tasteful, elegant electric guitar picking.
Add longtime Cowsill colleague Elmar Spanier on upright bass and punctuating harmony vocals and material such as Brenda Lee hit I’m Sorry and Dylan’s Be My Baby Tonight sparkle with new perspective.
Still, the pathos that lends substance to such a set of songs, disturbs a listener too.
Gifted with flashes of brilliance that light up original compositions such as Some Bird Cowsill should be concentrating more on his own writing, even if it’s at the expense of the crowd pleasers.
Those who’ve never heard him play will be dazzled. The rest of us wish for just a little bit more.