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NPR Review of Better Day from All things Considered
by Brian Baker
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?
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
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."
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.
Originally Reviewed: June 23, 2001
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
Originally Reviewed: June 05, 2001
by Kevin Forest Moreau
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.
New Music Report
Jul 23, 2001
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.
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.
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.
this time, folks.
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.
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".
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.
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.
the Continental Drifters still want to be a group. And Better Day
can handle its title without irony.
Band On The Run
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
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
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.
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
August 1, 2001
By ERIC FIDLER
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day is one of those cases where personal turmoil leads to timeless
pop... Can I get through this without mentioning Rumours?
May 25, 2001
By RICKY FLAKE
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.
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.
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.
favorite Peter Holsapple contribution varies, but right now it's "Live
On Love," with its romping horns (featuring Mulebone's Mark Mullins).
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.
Day" is an album that will continue to grow on listeners and provide
hours of musical pleasure, primarily because the Drifters are for real.
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.
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.