Continental Drifters, Continental Drifters (Monkey hill): The continental Drifters’ lineup offers the answer to several where-are-they-now? Queries. Whatever became of little Susie Cowsill of the ‘60s teen-pop band the Cowsills? Whatever happened to Peter Holsapple, leader of the late (and still lamented) dBs and sometime second guitarist for R.E.M.? What was the ultimate fate of the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson?
Well, Peterson and Cowsill formed a lovely harmony duo called the Psycho Sisters, which sometimes performed with the continental Drifters, whose members included Cowsill’s future husband, Holsapple, along with the former Dream Syndicate bassist Mark Walton and drummer Carlo Nuccio. (Nuccio’s credits include two albums with Tori Amos, but we’ll try not to hold that against him.) The Psycho Sisters were eventually subsumed into the Continental Drifters, and the band moved its base from California to New Orleans, Nuccio’s hometown, in 1993. (For those keeping score, Nuccio was a member of an earlier, New Orleans-based Continental Drifters, along with the guys who became the Subdudes.)
The Continental Drifters’ sound is an amalgam of power pop, roots-rock and Delta soul. When Holsapple is handling lead vocals, as on his “Invisible Boyfriend” the style strongly recalls the dBs’ rootsy power pop. Peterson’s “Mixed Messages” is a somewhat grittier brand of pop than the Bangles purveyed but no less tuneful.
On some of the best cuts, the Continental Drifters combine rock and soul with a bit of a twang. They come across like a co-ed offshoot of the Band on Nuccio’s “Mezzanine” and covers of the classic “Soul Deep” and Pat McLaughlin’s gorgeous “Highway of the Saints.” Nuccio’s gritty voice, Holsapple’s reedy tenor and the sweet sopranos of Peterson and Cowsill form quite a contrast, but the voices still blend beautifully.
There are a few weak spots, including a pointless cover of “I Can’t Make It Alone.” Cowsill’s vulnerable voice just wasn’t meant for belting, and the whiny, overwrought Carole King ballad doesn’t belong on the same album of Gram Parsons’ simple, moving “A Song for You.” But such missteps are few, and when the Continental Drifters follow their better instincts, they’re one of the brightest bands on the horizon.