C O N T I N E N T A L     D R I F T E R S

Trouser Press
No Depression
The Advocate
Toast Magazine
Music Alternatives
CMJ New Music Report

Trouser Press
Ira Robbins

For most of 1992, Tuesday nights in Hollywood meant that the Continental Drifters could be found on the stage of Raji's. Instigated the previous year by drummer/singer Carlo Nuccio (who had been in an early-'80s New Orleans precursor to the Subdudes by the same name) and guitarist/singer Ray Ganucheau — Louisiana émigrés getting some buddies together to write and play for fun — the residency turned into an indie-scene happening that attracted the cream of a likeminded crop. The weekly roots-rock hootenanny eventually solidified into an absurdly talented family containing multi-instrumentalist/singer Peter Holsapple (ex-dB's), bassist Mark Walton (ex-Dream Syndicate) and singer/guitarists Vicki Peterson (ex-Bangles) and Susan Cowsill (ex-Cowsills).

By the time of the group's debut album, Ganucheau was gone and the lineup had settled down to a six-piece with five gifted songwriters and four lead singers. A powerful, superbly played record of indescribable diversity — put pins in the Band, the Bangles and the soulful side of John Hiatt and connect the dots, that at least describes the perimeter — Continental Drifters is a passionate, populist winner in which everyone has a say worth hearing. If the singing lacks precision, the depth of emotions put into — and drawn from — the songs more than makes up for it.

Cowsill sings Walton's angry "Get Over It" with the surety of a woman who's been through it all and renders Goffin/King's "I Can't Make It Alone" with aching sadness and love; the rough edges of her own "Desperate Love" can't obscure its fiery core. Peterson's frustration at the "Mixed Messages" she's getting is palpable, as is her determination in Mike Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's Blues." Holsapple gives a handsome burnish to "Soul Deep" (a Wayne Thompson song done by the Box Tops) and tells an enigmatic romantic tale in the swaying "Invisible Boyfriend." Nuccio bounces through life's ups and downs in "New York" and "Mezzanine." Rather than a sampler of co-dependent solo artists, Continental Drifters is a sympathetic collective of individual hearts, minds and voices strengthening each other.

MAR-APR 2001

The Continental Drifters’ 1994 self-titled debut sent a minor tremor through the roots-rod world. The fabled supergroup of Mark Walton (Dream Syndicate), Vicki Peterson (Bangles) Susan Cowsill (of those Cowsills) Peter Holsapple (dB’s), Robert Maché (Steve Wynn) and drummer Carlo Nuccio had finally committed its five-songwriting attack to CD — but the band’s label, Monkey Hill, lacked wide spread distribution. In short, it was a great album, if you could find it.

A fresh mix and remastering have graced it with a crisper more vibrant sound, though comparisons to the band’s l999 follow-up, Vermilion, are unavoidable. Where the latter disc’s seeping emotional breadth stretched from Holsapple’s passionately romantic "I Want To Learn To Waltz With You" to Cowsill’s edgy childhood reminiscence "Spring Day In Ohio" and Peterson’s "Who We Are, Where We Live" (a heart-stopper about losing her fiancé to leukemia) the debut seems content to merely rock out.

But it rocks with the best of them. The Walton-penned "Get Over It" highlights Cowsill’s raspy country wail as it blasts over a wall of tightly intertwined guitars. Holsapple’s "Invisible Boyfriend" finds him pouring out dense, melodic layers of slide guitar that bend and wind like old backroads.

Five of the eleven tracks are covers — a surprising choice for a band with such songwriting talent, but each sounds like definitive Drifters tune by the time they finish with it. Pat McLaughlin’s "Highway Of The Saints" takes on a spiritual "Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ vibe as the musicians trade lead vocals. The Box Tops’ "Soul Deep" is transformed into a rough-hewn rave-up, and Gram Parsons’ "A Song For You" closes the album on a appropriate note of longing.

The biggest treats, though, are "Mezzanine" and "New York", both penned and sung by Nuccio, who left prior to Vermilion. His New Orleans roots and raw vocals (perhaps the male equivalent of Cowsill’s) conjure up a wild Little Feat ruckus that the band lost with his departure.

The Advocate

Published 1/12/01

The previously difficult-to-find debut from the News Orleans-based Continental Drifters gets a new lease on life. Razor & Tie Entertainment, which released the pop-rock-country collective's second album, 1999's Vermilion, has reissued the group's 1994 debut. It's worth revisiting or else knowing for the first time.

Hearing this soulful, rootsy collection of consistently fine songs and performances makes one wonder why the Continental Drifters haven't achieved Wilco-, Son Volt- and Jayhawks-style success. Including former Cowsills member Susan Cowsill, the Bangles' Vicki Peterson and former 'dB's member Peter Holsapple, Continental Drifters boasts a particularly strong lineup.

Band members share lead vocals and harmonize in memorable originals -- including the Cowsill-sung "Get Over It" and Peterson's sparkling "Mixed Messages" -- as well as such smartly chosen covers as Monkee Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's Blues" and the Boxtops' "Soul Deep." Continental Drifters is hidden treasure.

Toast Magazine
Record of the Week

John F. Butland

Originally released back in 1994, The Continental Drifters' self-titled debut LP is back in print in practically identical form, i.e., no bonus tracks, no new liner notes, no art differences, etc. No problem, it doesn't need them. When the it was originally released it was one of those lifetime discs; one that you carry with you as go through life and continue to play regularly, marveling at just how good it is, or just letting it carry you away from all the mundane bullshit; one of those that make your desert island list. It doesn't matter how many time you've played it, it always sounds fresh, and like an old friend it doesn't matter how long it's been since you were last together, you just pick right up where you left off, whether it was yesterday or several years ago.

It's hard to classify the Drifters - they have an impeccable pop pedigree, including as they do former members of The Bangles (Vicki Peterson), Cowsills (Susan Cowsill), and dB's (Peter Holsapple). Carlo Nuccio, as well as being a former Subdude has played with Tori Amos, and Mark Walton did time with The Dream Syndicate and Giant Sand, so there's a significant roots factor as well. They seamlessly blend folk, pop, rock, country, and soul into the record. Nobody has integrated that range of influences as fully since The Band's prime. And like Robbie, Garth, Rick, Richard, and Levon they have four vocalists and blend those voices so that they spar, intertwine and complement each other; more in an old-time country manner than the more familiar and common Beach Boys and Motown method. "Highway Of The Saints" is the most Band-like number - slow and mournful, it resonates with history and character as three different lead vocalists tell the story, and Holsapple contributes a wonderful Hammond organ to anchor it all.

The LP's weakest track is Nuccio's "Mezzanine." There's a heavy John Hiatt vibe to both his vocals and the song. On any other LP, Hiatt's included, it'd be a highlight, so it's the weak sister here purely by virtue of the company it keeps. The pure emotion of tracks like Walton's "Get Over It" and Peterson's "Mixed Messages" make a strong case for pop songs as the sin qua non method of conveying heartache. Cowsill's "Desperate Love" is a marvel of raw emotion, and could well have been a Dusty Springfield masterpiece if she'd been able to cut it; this version is pretty damn close to perfect, though.

Five of the eleven tracks are covers and their choices are brilliant. Along with the Goffin-King penned Bill Medley obscurity "I Can't Make It Alone," they tackle The Box Top's "Soul Deep" and Mike Nesmith's "Some Of Shelley's Blues." But the LP's best cover, and best track, is their version of Gram Parson's "A Song For You." (It's also the best version of a Parson's song, ever - Gram's included.) Holspapple and then-wife Cowsill's voices interweave and challenge each other, making for the perfect LP closer - you just want to hit play and start all over again.

With its influences all wrapped together as tightly as they are, I guess soul music is the best descriptor. It's music full of soul and for the soul, same as that of Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, Charlie Rich, Gram Parsons, Duane Allman, and Charles Mingus.

And as good as I thought this record was when I first heard it back in 1994, I think it's even better now. In fact, I can't think of a better LP released in the 90s. No bullshit

Sept. 10, 1994

Long-anticipated and longer on promise, the debut album from this loose, live musical conglomeration delivers, and then some. The Drifters whose members include Peter Holsapple of the dB's, former Bangle Vicki Peterson, and Susan Cowsill of that fabled pop family have built an ardent following through a series of club gigs in LA and New Orleans, and the easy spirit and heartfelt delivery that sparked the strong word of mouth prevails on such inspired covers as "Some Of Shelly's Blues" and "A Song For You," and superior originals like "Invisible Boyfriend." The sound is swaying roots rock cum country/Cajun; the harmonies, sweet; and the verdict, killer.

Oct. 1994

On their eponymous debut album, (Monkey Hill/Sky/Ichiban.****) New Orleans-via-L.A. semisupergroup the Continental Drifters suggest an idealistic parallel musical reality located somewhere between "1,2,3, Red Light" and Music From Big Pink. With four credible lead voices trading off with organic ease, this democratic group achieves a gracefully expansive roots-pop vision that neatly encompasses ex-dB Peter Holsapple's tuneful sensitivity ("Invisible Boyfriend"), drummer Carlo Nuccio's down-home irony ("Mezzanine") and former Bangle Vicki Peterson's grown-up bubble-gum ("Mixed Messages"). The nicest surprise here, though, is former preteen prodigy Susan Cowsill, who shines on bassist Mark Walton's "Get Over It" and on her own "Desperate Love." There's also a smart selection of covers, notably Cowsill's soulful reading of Dusty Springfield's "I Can't Make It Alone" and Holsapple's impassioned take on Gram Parsons' "A Song For You."


CMJ New Music Report
Vol 40 No. 3 Issue 398
October 10, 1994

When the Continental Drifters started out in Los Angeles in 1992, they didn't consider themselves a band, but more of a loose assembly of friends who got together to play some songs they liked. But they weren't just any musicians, they were Peter Holsapple of dB's/R.E.M. fame, Susan Cowsill (yes, those Cowsills), Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Dream Syndicate bassist Mark Walton and Carlo Nuccio, who has worked extensively with Tori Amos. They form a decidedly atypical combo, but one that worked together very well on stage. In 1993 they moved to New Orleans, where Nuccio had started out in a precursor to the Subdudes, and became a real band. Their debut cuts a wide swath through American music at its finest. Each member contributes a song (Nuccio gives two, induding the righteous and rootsy "Mezzanine") and they cover material from the likes of Gram Parsons (a fabulous take on "A Song For You"), Michael Nesmith ("Some Of Shelly's Blues"), Pat McLaughlin ("Highway Of The Saints") and the Boxtops ("Soul Deep"). The Continental Drifters are the kind of band that would have been passed up by radio a couple of years ago because they don't sound like anyone else around today, but they're just the type of band that Triple AAA radio was born to play.

Music Alternatives
No. 59 Nov/Dec 1994

CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS: I first saw the Drifters in 1992 when they opened for Bob Dylan in L.A. They knocked me out, managing to bottle up the unpredictable sting of the Band, the chiming pop grace of the Byrds, and the ragged adventurousness of Giant Sand. The group had recently formed among members of L.A.'s veteran pop/punk scene during weekly jam sessions at the Hollywood dive Raji's: bassist Mark Walton had played with the Dream Syndicate, Vicki Peterson was a Bangle, Peter Holsapple came from NC/NYC power-popsters the dBs, and Susan Cowsill had been a child star in the '60s family band the Cowsills (on whom the Partridge Family was modeled). Two years later, Holsapple and Cowsill have married and had a child, and the Drifters have moved to New Orleans, where they recorded their debut album. Solid, energetic, and consistently appealing, the collection romps from first-generation California country-rock (no Eagles insipidness here) to cluesy, Southern-tinged rock'n'roll. Multi-instrumentalist Holsapple lays the musical foundation with his pop smarts while Peterson and Cowsill display their distinctive vocals on originals (Cowsill's powerful "Desperate Love" and Peterson's "Mixed Messages") as well as covers like Goffin-King's "I Can't Make It Alone" and Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's Blues." Drummer Carlo Nuccio's two original tunes, "Mezzanine" and "New York" have a gritty, soulful, Southern Rock flavor, but lean a bit too close to bar-band cliche for comfort. The vast majority of this, however is top-notch.


A sampling of critical response to "Continental Drifters"

"a refreshingly unpretentious blend of rock, soul and country, wide ranging yet surprisingly... coherent... Continental Drifters has a family, shared feel, not unlike early records by The Band." CD REVIEW 12/94

"hard to resist... if you take a bunch of players from wildly different backgrounds, you might get a classic American rock-and-country band... harmonies to die for..." NEW COUNTRY 10/94

"a spirit of community and good-natured exchange, along with the know-how to make the music roll, swing, celebrate or plead, imbues the album with a constant air of honesty and commitment." METROLAND 11/94

"solid, energetic and consistently appealing..." OPTION 11-12/94

"a warm rootsy feel... a rare feat in contemporary music..." CMJ

"Continental Drifters may be the best working band in the United States... (they) have tapped a rare essence, and, as long as there is electricity to power guitars and amps, this music will never go out of style."
L.A. WEEKLY 9/94

"long-anticipated and longer on promise, the debut album... delivers, and then some. The sound is swaying roots-rock-cum- country/Cajun; the harmonies, sweet; the verdict, killer."

"a fathomless pool of writing talent... their sound is graceful and unaffectedly lush."

© 2003 Continental Drifters ®™