N I N E T E E N  N I N E T Y-T H R E E


Sept./Oct. 2003

Nineteen Ninety-Three should have been the Continental Drifters' first album. However, by the time they finished it, the Drifters had relocated from Los Angeles to New Orleans and, more significantly, had lost two of their three original singer-songwriters. So they shelved these sessions, and their 1994 self-titled disc wound up as their official debut.

These early recordings are an illuminating look back. Although the Drifters' latter-day front threesome of Vicki Peterson, Susan Cowsill and Peter Holsapple are present, they fill secondary roles (the newly full-time Drifter Holsapple figures most prominently, contributing his playing and production but no lead vocals). Drummer Carlo Nuccio and guitarists Ray Ganucheau and Gary Eaton constituted the Drifters' first singer-songwriter triumvirate; however, only Nuccio remained for their 1994 effort, and he was gone by the next record.

These Drifters have a grittier, more soulful edge to their rootsy pop. Nuccio's rough-hewn tunes such as "New York" and the mischievous "Side Steppin' The Fire" suggest John Hiatt fronting The Band, while Ganucheau's numbers proiect a more laid-back soul feel. Sounding a bit like Steve Winwood, he gives a stirring performance on "No One Cares" and imbues "I Didn't Want To Lie" with a heartfelt intimacy. Ganucheau and Nuccio's marvelous collaboration, "The Mississippi" , marries Dixie funk to swampy rock 'n' roll.

Eaton, who contributes the most originals (five), brings out the band's country side on the Flying Burrito Brothers-like ditty "Mr. Everything", the twisty twang-poppy “Match Made In Heaven” and the rocking “Dallas”. His “Let It Ride”, a vivid portrait of people struggling to make sense out of their lives, closes the disc on a powerful note.
Only three of the thirteen tunes here have been released before in any fashion. Holsapple's sole composition, “Invisible Boyfriend”, appeared on the band's debut (with Holsapple singing it instead of Eaton) as did a redone “New York”; an early version of “The Mississippi" was on an obscure 1992 single.

A strong album from start to finish, Nineteen Ninety-Three transcends archival curio status and serves as a terrific showcase for the three men who first led the Continental Drifters.

- Michael Berrick

OFFBEAT - www.offbeat.com
JULY 2003


I confess I didn't get the Continental Drifters at first. I'd see them and enjoy the show for a while, but at some point it would feel unfocused to me. Who was the central voice? Was this Peter Holsapple's band with songs by Vicki Peterson, Susan Cowsill or Carlo Nuccio thrown in, or was Vicki the focus, or Susan or Carlo? After a few shows, I finally realized the obvious; the central voice was the group's voice, and that for the Continental Drifters, the group was the thing. In a show business culture that focuses on the marketable face and identity, that's a tough idea to grasp and a tougher idea to sell.

Chronologically, Nineteen Ninety-Three is the first Continental Drifters album, and it documents a time when things were very different but very much the same. Recorded in 1993 as the title indicates, the band was based in Los Angeles and the line-up was very different. Nuccio, Ray Ganucheau and Gary Eaton were the primary songwriters and vocalists, and Holsapple was the keyboard player and backing vocalist. "Invisible Boyfriend," his only song on the album, is sung by Eaton. At the time, Peterson and Cowsill were the Psycho Sisters and were regular guests for their weekly shows at Raji's, not "official" members. They sing backing vocals on two songs, and Robert Maché, who along with Robert Lloyd guested as the Bob Squad in Los Angeles, isn't on the disc at all.
The differences, though, are superficial. The charms of Continental Drifters discs are the same ones as ever, and they may be more evident on Nineteen Ninety-Three than they have been. Perhaps because the line-up is all male and Ganucheau and Eaton's voices aren't drastically different, these performances are more obviously the product of a group. Because this line-up didn't have pedigrees as celebrated as later line-ups, it's also easier to hear these songs as the product of a group. In later incarnations, songs are more often identified with their writers or singers.

Not surprisingly, the songwriting is as strong here as on any of the records. Ganucheau and Nuccio's "The Mississippi" is perhaps the band's first great song and has been one of the highlights of the live show for the last few years, albeit with Cowsill singing. With the release of the new disc, it's available on CD for the first time and this version shows that the strength is first and foremost in the song. This recording doesn't recall Bobbie Gentry like the song did when Cowsill sang it, but it's still soulful with Ganucheau singing, and Nuccio's drumming provides the blueprint for the loose, lumpy-wheel groove Russ Broussard later perfected.

After "The Mississippi," the most comment-worthy thing about Nineteen Ninety-Three is how coherent it sounds. You can hear differences in the songwriting-Eaton's "Mr. Everything" and "Match Made in Heaven" owing a debt to Ray Davies, Nuccio's "Side Steppin' the Fire" recalling The Band, Ganucheau's "No One Cares" and "I Didn't Want to Lie" owing more to blues and soul. Those are merely influences though, and filtered through these writers and these musicians, they're adapted to the group's sound, which is pretty much like the Drifters you probably already know. The guitars buzz here a little more, but chalk that up to Ganucheau and Eaton, both of whom had left before the recording of Continental Drifters.

This review, incidentally, is not an epitaph for the Continental Drifters. The word is that Peterson, Holsapple, Mark Walton and Robert Maché want to continue, and seeing as how the band has been through as many changes as it has so far, there's no reason to think another incarnation won't form. In fact, the "first" Continental Drifters album was recorded in just such a period of line-up upheaval when Eaton decided he had too many roots in Los Angeles to move to New Orleans, and for health reasons, Ganucheau bowed out. It no longer made sense to release a CD with two of the three singers not with the band, which explains why this album was shelved for so long. At that point, Maché was living in Tucson so when the new line-up was recording Continental Drifters, they had to courier the tapes to him so he could put his guitar parts on.

It would be nice to think Nineteen Ninety-Three will garner the Continental Drifters the kind of audience and appreciation they deserve in New Orleans, but the odds are against it. Since they're not playing live right now, it'll be tough to interest people in "new" material, but beyond that, New Orleans has a bad habit of treating musicians who were successful before they moved to town as carpetbaggers. In this case unfortunately, the "outsider" stigma has obscured the common thread between the Continental Drifters and New Orleans bands, and it's ironic that a city has a hard time finding a place for a band that embraces the same communal principles as its best musical products-jazz and funk.

- Alex Rawls


© 2003 Continental Drifters ®™