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Listen, Listen
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February 2002

When I first saw the Continental Drifters at the old Warehouse Café on Annunciation, they sat in a semi-circle with guitars, and while the focus was on songwriting, the most obvious pleasure came from the simple acts of people singing and playing together. Since then, the Continental Drifters has evolved into something larger and more band-like, but on Listen, Listen, those basic charms are once again front and center.

All but one song on the disc was recorded live at Hot*FM, a German radio station during their last European tour, and with everybody playing acoustic instruments, the tracks don't sound like performances. Instead, they sound like friends getting together to sing songs they love. "You're Going to Need Somebody" may motor almost as hard as it does with electric instruments, but Mike Mayeux's production features the voices and Peter Holsapple's accordion. Vicki Peterson sings the title track with care and affection of someone who wishes she'd have written Sandy Denny's song, and Susan Cowsill gets inside "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" and "I'm a Dreamer" as if she really did write them.

As the cover, a take on Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief, suggests, the disc is a collection of songs by Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, two songwriters whose brilliant output, Holsapple writes, remains "largely unheard by the listening public." In fact, he approaches "Matty Groves" like someone determined to show everybody how great a ballad it is, and that respect for songwriting craft underlies all these performances. Denny and Thompson are also appropriate choices to cover because they, like the Continental Drifters' writers, were unsatisfied by simple takes on love and life when more conflicted songs were more interesting, more real and just as lovely.

Unfortunately, the Drifters' American label doesn't plan to release the disc in the United States, so the only ways to get it are through import channels, through Blue Rose records, or through the Continental Drifters' website, www.continentaldrifters.com.

Alex Rawls