The Cowsills – Rhythm of the World (Omnivore Recordings)
First new album in 30 years from the original “Family Band”
Long before the Jacksons and Osmonds, the Cowsills were the original musical family. Hailing from Rhode Island, the band of six siblings and their mother, hit the charts in the late Sixties with songs like “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “We Can Fly,” and “Hair.” They were even the inspiration for the hit TV show, The Partridge Family. After a long hiatus, the band is back with an excellent new album called Rhythm of the World.
Their signature, spine-chilling, familial harmonies were what helped propel their original fame, and thankfully, it’s what makes their new album so good. In fact, there are times when harmonies seem to be coming from every direction – left, right, center; enveloping you in those warm, human voices.
The group’s sharp rise and fall from grace was chronicled in the 2011 documentary, Family Band, which is readily available on streaming. Despite so much adversity over the years, you might be surprised at how positive most of the songs here are.
The trio of Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill remain from the original seven (brother John plays drums for the Beach Boys). However, furthering the family affair are Bob’s son, Ryan, on keyboards, and Paul’s son, Brendon, on guitar. Susan’s husband, Russ Broussard, handles the drums, and Mary Lasseigne, also from Susan’s band, plays bass.
The record opens with “Ya Gotta Get Up,” a phrase that Howard Kaylan of the Turtles (a frequent touring partner of the Cowsills) would often yell to the audience. The song itself is plea to keep going, something all of us can understand in this post-pandemic world. The track is mostly sung by Paul with a trippy middle section sung by Susan.
The song that really stands out (and the one that won’t get out of my head) is “Lend a Hand,” a great, jangly slice of sing-a-long, Sixties-styled pop featuring some excellent, sun-kissed harmonies, and a lead vocal by Bob. It’s a song that somehow manages to be both classic and completely relevant today.
“Hawks on the Hill” has a spaghetti western feel (think Duane Eddy), while “Every Little Secret” reminds me of Byrd Gene Clark’s solo output, and features a faux sitar, and a nod to Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” on the chorus.
Susan takes the lead on “Rhythm of the World,” which slowly builds from a 12-string electric strumming. The lyrics admit, “we’re having way too fun to slow down,” but serves as a warning, “please remember there’s this place where we live / it can’t take too much more / something big’s got to give.” There’s also a nod to Crowded House with the “hey now, hey now” on the chorus.
“Largo Nights” is a gorgeous, mid-tempo number, while “Goodbye’s Not Forever” recalls Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” “The Long Run” features a shuffle beat on the verses, but then the harmonies come in on the “tell you how I feel” chorus – this harmony stuff is addictive, you just want to hear it over and over.
The album closes with the heavy “Katrina,” a firsthand account of the destruction that left Susan homeless, and ultimately took the life of brother Barry. The track opens with strumming reminiscent of Chicago’s “Beginnings.” The verses swirl around you like a building storm, while the chorus asks “K-k-katrina, what did you do to me, do to everyone”? The song ends in chaos of voices and guitars – a stunning tribute to a storm that changed the course of so many people’s lives.
Rhythm of the World reminds us that, despite most of us spending a lot of time recently alone, we’re better together. The Cowsills know this too, and this album proves it. Give it one listen. You may find yourself hitting the repeat button, just to hear those great harmonies again, and again. —Tony Peters