Susan and Paul Cowsill (Photo: May Pang)
You would be forgiven if you didn't know that the Cowsills are still going strong, if not stronger, some 50 years after hitting the big time in 1967 with their No. 2 hit "The Rain, The Park & Other Things"—also if you didn't know that siblings Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill have done plenty since their last Top 40 hit "Hair" reached No. 2 in 1969.
Indeed, the three have enjoyed solo careers in between intermittent touring together, and seem to be on a career resurgence thanks to their acclaimed sets on the last two Happy Together package tours, and truly jaw-dropping full shows at venues like New York's Cutting Room, where they returned last Saturday night (Dec. 3).
Nominally a holiday show--it started with "Winter Wonderland" and included Bob's beautiful "Christmastime (A Song for Marissa)"--and had Susan wearing a Santa hat, Paul a Christmas vest and John a red tie, and a stage festooned with Christmas decorations—the repertoire included all their big hits, and then some.
As the Cowsills' sound has always owed heavily to '60s folk rock—Mamas & the Papas being an obvious comparison—they celebrated their folk roots mid-set with "If I Had a Hammer," "Puff, the Magic Dragon," and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Helping"—this cited as representing the "evolution" of folk music. Other covers included Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer," We Five's "You Were on My Mind," "Be My Baby"—with Susan rivaling Ronnie Spector—the Beatle's "Eight Days a Week" (the encore) and "I Think I Love You," the 1970 hit by the TV sitcom Partridge Family, who were inspired, of course, by the real life Cowsills.
"We only had four hits!" Paul explained of the covers, further noting that the "TV songs"—also including the 1969 theme for Love American Style—are long past their cancellation date. But the other three Cowsills Top 40 hits—"We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" and signature hit "Hair"—are immortal, and were delivered here record-perfect.
What makes the trio's timeless sound even more mind-boggling is the fact that two performing siblings—brothers Billy and Barry—are both deceased, as is mother Barbara, who was also an original group member. Brother John Cowsill remains longtime drummer for the Beach Boys touring band.
Still, Bob, Paul and Susan have enough voice to cover all of them—not to mention stories. Bob and Paul introduced such early Cowsills singles as "All I Really Want to Be is Me," "Most of All," "In Need of a Friend" and "Poor Baby" with revealing background, often concerning the near-desperation the group felt in struggling to maintain a career that only had four measurable hits. "You should save it for therapy," Susan commented, prompting Paul to respond, "This is therapy!"
But a couple Cowsills songs were truly therapeutic. In keeping their late brothers alive, they sang the gorgeous "Deliver Me" by Billy Cowsill, who wrote and performed it while heading the alt-country band Blue Shadows. Billy died in 2006 after lengthy illnesses; the family learned of his death while holding a memorial service for Barry Cowsill, who had perished a few months earlier in Hurricane Katrina. Susan sang her stunning version of Barry's "River of Love" in their memory.
Touching, too, was Susan's "Nanny's Song" from her first solo album Just Believe It (2004), about her grandmother's hanging on to life. And the Cowsills also performed "Covered Wagon," their 1972 single written by Danny O'Keefe that failed to chart, but was recently brought back by Miranda Lambert on her The Weight of These Wings set.
As ever, the Cowsills stayed well over an hour after the show to sign autographs and pose for pics with adoring fans. The show itself was taped for New Year's Eve programming on Sirius XM and is bound to beat anything on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest.
The Cowsills cruise