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Gallery of Sound
by Brian Baker

For the better part of the past ten years, the Continental Drifters have been the critics' darling, an amazing collective of songwriting and performing talent that sends writers' needles to red and yet barely registers with the public at large. What do we have to do, bring the band to your house?

On the Drifters' two previous albums, the dynamic was for each member to write material individually, more or less, and bring it to the group for arrangement in the band crucible. The result was a set of richly different songs that still sounded cohesive because of the consistent and intuitive arrangements. On Better Day, the Drifters have allowed the songs a little more room to exist on their own, which gives the album a slightly more quilt-like feel, a sonic pattern made up of disparate parts stitched together deftly to create a wildly harmonious whole.

From the natural influences of the band's home base of New Orleans to the roots rock that underpinned the first two albums to a gumbo of R&B, soul, pop, country, and gospel, the Drifters have defined their own edges a little more clearly on Better Day. The raucous "Na Na" gives way to the gentle but insistent country thump of "Tomorrow's Gonna Be" and the soulful pop of "Live on Love."

It's hard not to read a little fracture into the Drifters' democratic system, with the break-up of Peter Holsapple and Susan Cowsill in the middle of this album--songs like "Too Little, Too Late" and "(Down by The) Great Mistake" seem to detail it. Thankfully, the Drifters have always been a group of individuals, and their love of the music has transcended the turmoil of the end of Holsapple and Cowsill's marriage. This would be a career album for the Continental Drifters on its own, but considering the emotional upheaval that attended it, Better Day has all the earmarks of one of the year's best.


Source: PRINT
Originally Reviewed: June 23, 2001

The song "Live on Love" opens with the sound of Peter Holsapple laughing. It's an ironic moment, considering that Better Day the third release by this supremely talented pop-rock sextet chronicles the hard luck and dashed hopes that have plagued the group for years. But this classic touch of Motown soul shows the Continental Drifters putting on a brave face. The brisk tempos keep rolling with the honky-tonk two-step of "Long Journey Home" and the Cajun waltz "Too Much a Fool," both of which feature Vicki Peterson (of the Bangles). The dirge-like "Cousin" and the serene lullabye "Peaceful Waking" showcase the angelic vulnerability in Susan Cowsill's voice. "Too Little, Too Late" and "(Down by the) Great Mistake" prove that Holsapple (ex-dB's) has lost none of his acid wit. Often compared to the Band for its rootsy soul, the Continental Drifters lean more toward shimmering pop with such songs as the Byrds-esque "Someday" and the power chords of "Na Na." Programmers with an ear for sharp hooks and stories from the adult side of life will find much to admire on Better Day.

Originally Reviewed: June 05, 2001
by Kevin Forest Moreau

At first listen, the Continental Drifters' third release bears a striking lyrical resemblance to "Rumours," Fleetwood Mac's seminal breakup-set-to-music. Given the recent divorce of bandmates Peter Holsapple and Susan Cowsill, the album starts off on an unsettling note, charting a character's progress from "somebody's little girl to someone else's wife / (and) what happened in between is the dying of a dream." Ouch.

But not for nothing is the disc titled "Better Day." The Drifters, an all-star conglomerate of musical survivors, excel at spinning such emotional straw into roots-rock gold, wrapping bruised optimism in engaging slices of rustic country, rock, and soul.

If former dB Holsapple is indeed playing Lindsey Buckingham to Cowsill's Stevie Nicks, they're older and wiser. They're also smart enough not to hang their dirty laundry in public, instead channeling their pathos into their craft. Such is the case with Holsapple's hopeful "Live on Love," propelled by a buoyant, radio-ready horn arrangement, in which he finds the will to love another day.

Cowsill's "Snow" similarly mines a childlike vulnerability, as she employs her achingly tarnished voice to simple and moving effect. But it's not just their show. Once-and-future Bangle Vicki Peterson proves herself an increasingly adept songwriter, more Sheryl Crow or Shelby Lynne than Christine McVie -- the opening "Na Na" is a stealthily catchy singalong, packed with the most "na nas" per square inch since Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'." Elsewhere, her "That Much a Fool" could pass for a canonical Cajun waltz exhumed from a nineteenth-century bayou.

Indeed, all of the players shine, a living testament to the adage that some rockers just get better with age.


CMJ New Music Report
Issue: 724
Jul 23, 2001
Scott Frampton

In a sampler box of chocolates, you always have some idea of what each piece will be -the square ones are caramels, round ones buttercreams, toffees are the flat rectangles, etc. Part of the fun, though, comes from leaving yourself open for pleasant surprises. Listening to a Continental Drifters record works in much the same way: Peter Holsapple's songs (e.g. (Down By The) Great Mistake," "Live On Love") have the flavor of the dB's kingpin and one-time R.E.M. sideman, and Susan Cowsill's tracks (e.g. "Cousin," "Snow") have that folk-rock bite you'd expect of her songs. That said, this is a quality box of candy. The band is resolutely democratic in its approach, allowing for the different song styles and personalities of its half-dozen members to come to the fore wherever it's appropriate, but it's also a band, with everyone playing their considerable hearts out in the name of respectable rock 'n' roll. Don't move at plate tectonics speed toward this Better Day.



By now you know the story. A seemingly motley assembly of musicians from some celebrated and semi-celebrated bands and of both the female and male persuasions fall in together over a number of years, drift across the continent from Los Angeles to New Orleans, become a famously unfamous cult band that doesn’t leave home much — and, yes, plays really, really well, when you get to hear them.

The Continental Drifters’ fate from there, according to the Official Rock Band Disaster Guidebook, should be much like the Mamas & Papas, the original Fairport Convention, or the later Fleetwood Mac: interpersonal soap opera, singer and songwriter rivalry, then quick dissolution under the pressure of pure centrifugal force.

Not this time, folks.

With this new third disc, still self-produced, but the first made and distributed with a recognized U.S. label from the outset, the Continental Drifters turn expectations upside down, proving themselves to be at once more cohesive and more ready to spotlight individual members’ strengths than ever. Everybody’s backed up, and everybody gets a turn at bat.

The result is a collection that sounds like a product of the R&B-rich New Orleans of, say, Allan Toussaint, particularly in such Peter Hopsapple-penned, loosey-goosey, horn-enriched, funky-to-greasy cuts as "Too Little, Too Late", "Down By The Great Mistake", and the Muscle Shoals-style ‘Too Little, Too Late".

There are three new tunes penned by Vicki Peterson, four by Holsapple, four by Susan Cowsill, and one by Mark Walton. A surprise standout is Peterson’s "That Much A Fool", which is not only twangful, but will surely be one of the better new country and Cajun love ballads released this year.

Special note must be made of the indie-rock numbers written and sung by Cowsill. Challenging, smart, experienced relentless and regretful, these utterly distinctive offerings ("Snow", "Cousin", "Peaceful Waking", "Someday") are the stuff big-time solo careers are made of— at least jn cases where the author would rather be alone.

But the Continental Drifters still want to be a group. And Better Day can handle its title without irony.


Band On The Run
sonicnet.com / VH1.com
By Luke Torn

The individual members of the Continental Drifters made their names in some of best bands of the 1980s: Vicki Peterson was the lead guitarist with the Bangles, and wrote (or co-wrote) some of their most enduring songs, such as "Hero Takes a Fall." Keyboardist Peter Holsapple was a key member of alterna-pop trailblazers the dB's, and toured as an auxiliary member of R.E.M. during that group's best days. Mark Walton played bass in Los Angeles' paisley underground kings the Dream Syndicate. The exception is Holsapple's wife, vocalist Susan Cowsill, whose pedigree goes all the way back to the late '60s and her days as a child star in the Partridge Family-prototype pop group the Cowsills.

Propelled by their glorious harmonies, the Drifters find the shining heart of every song.

On Better Day, the Drifters finally meld their personalities and creative instincts into a sum greater than its parts. With four songwriters working at the top of their game, the group rekindles the archetype of the cohesive, democratic rock and roll band. Their third album (they debuted, dry-run style, in '94), Better Day veers from the template of its predecessor, 1999's excellent Vermilion, by extending the band's musical palette to include everything from Stax-style soul workouts to mandolin-laced roots numbers (the country-tinged weeper "That Much a Fool"), and even a bit of Sir Douglas Quintet-style raunch, on the call-and-response number "(Down by the) Great Mistake." If there's nothing quite as dazzling here as Vermilion's harmony-soaked "Way of the World," Better Day delves deeper into themes of faith and hope, and the disillusionment that often threatens those uplifting feelings.

It's there in Vicki Peterson's fierce, focused vocal on "Na Na" ("This is the story of my life/ Somebody's little girl to someone else's wife/ And what happened in between/ Is the dying of a dream"); in the disconnected vibe of Holsapple's "(Down by the) Great Mistake" (with lovers barking such lines at each other as: "I think it's gonna work out just fine/ You can think that way if you like"); and on Cowsill's searching "Snow". You might suspect all this adds up to a dour affair, but in the hands of the Drifters, the purposeful, emotionally charged tone of Better Day makes for an ebullient, hook-infested guitar pop recording, while, propelled by their glorious harmonies, the band finds the shining heart of every song.

Perhaps most surprising is the album's finale, "Where Does the Time Go", a beautiful, moody Holsapple tune that leans closer to Tin Pan Alley than indie-pop. Like just about all of Better Day, it testifies to the growth and newfound artistic strength of the Continental Drifters — and hints at yet more surprising musical explorations in this inviting group's future.


Associated Press
August 1, 2001

''Better Day'' is the sound of a band becoming more than the sum of its parts. The members of Continental Drifters have impressive musical pedigrees, with former members of The Bangles, The dB's and The Cowsills on board.

On 1999's brilliant ``Vermilion,'' they lived up to their heady promise. "Better Day'' is every bit as good as ``Vermilion'' if not as immediately addictive. This is a band capable of going from a Memphis-style soul workout to a mandolin-intensive weeper without ever sounding a false note.

The members of Continental Drifters have been around the block a few times, professionally and personally, and their subject matter reflects that. But the songs are ultimately uplifting, expressions of hope and faith in the face of disillusionment and heartache. The music is rootsy, but full of the type of pop hooks that keep the tunes resonating hours after the album is over.


Stereo Review's Sound & Vision
June, 2001

Brett Milano
Five Stars

There are times when everything just comes together. The Continental Drifters went into their third album with a long history, approaching ten-year status as one of America's most over looked and flat-out finest bands. By the time they booked three weeks in the studio in January, they were facing pressures both professional and personal: singer/guitarist Vicki Peterson was getting recommitted to her former band, the Bangles, while singer/keyboardist Peter Holsapple and singer Susan Cowsill had recently ended their marriage. With no choice but to pour it all out in a hurry, they wound up painting their masterpiece.

Hold on a second - didn't we say something similar about the Drifters' last album, Vermilion? Yes, but there's a difference: Vermilion was songs they'd played live for years, so it had the feel of a retrospective instead of a spur-of-the-moment statement. It also wound up a little ballad heavy. Better Day is two songs shorter, but it has a fuller share of everything the band can do, including good old garage rock and steller pop harmonies. Add to that a few new wrinkles: Peterson's "That Much a Fool" is the Drifters' first real country song, while "Tomorrow's Gonna Be" - only the second song that bassist Mark Walton has written for the group, and the first he's sung - has a south western cantina feel. Meanwhile, rest assured that the ballads here, mostly Cowsill's this time around, are still gorgeous.

Intentionally or not, Better Day comes across like a loose concept album about finding love and inspiration despite the odds. And though it doesn't skimp on heart, it never settles for easy sentiment. Peterson's opener, "Na Na," tells a dogged survivors story, but the sound is pure, uplifting pop. When the band crashes in in after the first chorus and the three-part harmonies kick in, you know your in good hands. the uplift continues with Holsapple's "Love on Love" and Cowsill's jangly "Someday," which, respectively, evince the melodic knack the songwriters gained in the dB's and the Cowsills.

The first half shows how well the Drifters can rock, the second gets down to the emotional point. The two divorce-themed songs gain poignancy from being placed back to back. Holsapple's "(Down by the) Great Mistake" is both blustery and gallows humored, with music that channels the Sir Douglas Quintet and words that ask the tough questions. It's answered by Cowsill's "Peaceful Waking" one of the warmest and most generous breakup songs you'll ever hear.

Better Day is one of those cases where personal turmoil leads to timeless pop... Can I get through this without mentioning Rumours?


May 25, 2001
4-1/2 stars

Stardom didn't come beating down the Continental Drifters' door after the domestic release of their excellent album "Vermilion" in 1999. That hasn't kept the rootsy New Orleans collective of singer-songwriters from following their muses into the bayou to record, with impatient verve, their first full-length recording in quite a while.

The band seems to have found what they need in their label, Razor & Tie: a supportive record company that won't attempt much major-label pigeonholing. You see, the Drifters' commitment to great songs, rather than a singular style, is fantastic; however, it has so far won them more critical hosannas than mass appeal. We hope this new offering can draw more listeners into their web. After some delays, the release date has been announced for June 5.

Here's our best shot at naming favorites, beginning with bassist Mark Walton's loopy "Tomorrow's Gonna Be." This title song in disguise is a rare treat for listeners. Susan Cowsill's melancholy "Cousin" brings back memories of late-period Beatles, and her "Snow" is a beautiful meditation that feels like the record's most stunning song.

Our favorite Peter Holsapple contribution varies, but right now it's "Live On Love," with its romping horns (featuring Mulebone's Mark Mullins).

Vicki Peterson's "That Much A Fool" proves that she's been bitten by the waltz bug, and she narrates this bittersweet tale with tons of soul. Ace guitarist Robert Mache' contributes tasteful sonic seasoning plus the occasional wild solo (check the opening cut, Vicki's spunky "Na Na" ). Ace drummer Russ Broussard navigates the Drifters' rhythmic waters with polished aplomb while adding his name to the composers' list, co-writing the lovely "Peaceful Waking" with Cowsill.

"Better Day" is an album that will continue to grow on listeners and provide hours of musical pleasure, primarily because the Drifters are for real.

The Continental Drifters are one of America's undiscovered treasures, and we recommend a trip to the Big Easy so the discovery can be made before the "Better Day" tour begins in June.

Brad Rice

The Continental Drifters' 1999 record Vermilion garnered widespread critical raves and it was truly deserving of the praise. Better Day picks up right where Vermilion left off. It is a brilliant album that glides seamlessly across the terrain of American music. The Drifters stake their claim as one of America's greatest purveyors of mature, organic music. Whether it is the full-blown, horn-fueled R&B of "Live on Love," the funky celebratory organ and call-and-response vocals of Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson on "(Down by the) Great Mistake" or the beautiful melancholy pop of Susan Cowsill's "Snow," Better Day weaves itself in and out of various musical and emotional places that few bands could hope to pull off so effortlessly. But then again, the Drifters have so much talent and have obviously enjoyed playing together for so many years now that this is what you would expect. Fortunately this what you get.



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