As a 7-year-old, Susan Cowsill became the youngest member of The Cowsills, a real-life family "sunshine-pop"band out of Newport, R.I. (scoring hits with "The Rain, The Park, And Other Things," "We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" and "Hair") that would serve as the template for TV's "The Partridge Family."
Featuring terrific vocal harmonies, several strong songwriters and professional-grade musicianship, The Cowsills (Susan's brothers Bill, Barry, Bob, Paul and John plus their mother Barbara) were genuinely talented.
They attempted to break out of the teeny-bopper rut by rapidly morphing into a highly melodic, first-class folk-rock band, but their core audience abandoned them while critics roundly shunned them as toxically un-hip, so the group broke up in 1971 when Susan was 12.
After re-emerging in the mid-'80s (touring with rocker Dwight Twilley's band), Cowsill became a much-in-demand studio backing singer, applying harmony vocals for the likes of The Smithereens, Hootie & the Blowfish, Carlene Carter and Giant Sand before spending much of the '90s with then-husband Peter Holsapple (ex-dBs), Vicki Peterson (ex-Bangles) and Mark Walton (ex-Dream Syndicate) in New Orleans-based indie supergroup The Continental Drifters.
The 21st century brought divorce and re-marriage (to Drifters' drummer Russ Broussard), with Susan spreading her musical gifts among the rock-and-pop oriented Susan Cowsill Band, hers and Broussard's zydeco side-project The Bonoffs and occasional Cowsills reunions.
In 2005, equipped with an expressive voice, enough firsthand life experience to pack a novel and an undeniable gift for songwriting, Susan Cowsill finally released her solo debut recording, "Just Believe It."
A moving collection of 14 songs either written or co-written by the artist -- plus a gorgeous rendition of Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" -- "Just Believe It" was capturing across-the-board critical raves even as Hurricane Katrina rolled in to ravage her beloved Crescent City.
Not only was her home and nearly all of its contents included in the flood's staggering devastation, but her brother Barry was swept away by it; his body was recovered and identified nearly four months later (some six weeks after that, brother Bill Cowsill died on the eve of a memorial service for Barry in Newport).
The dozen tracks on Susan's brand-new "Lighthouse" include 10 originals written and recorded over the four-plus years following Katrina; its two covers are a heart-rending reading of Jim Webb's classic "Galveston" and a powerful rendition of Barry Cowsill's upbeat "River of Love" (which features harmonies by remaining Cowsill brothers Bob, Paul and John).
Understandably, personal loss and unspeakable grief are never far away, but Cowsill interweaves graceful, loving remembrances of lives lost and a great city forever changed with hard-won nods to the joys and pains of survival -- all of which is underscored and driven by buoyant, melodic rock.
Highly recommended, this "Lighthouse" is a hopeful, life-affirming beacon from a battered shore.