Blue Shadows – On the Floor of Heaven

January 01, 1970

(Bumstead Productions)

www.bumstead.com

 

Most people’s memories of the Cowsills are confined to their
giddy hits of the late ‘60s – “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “We Can
Fly,” “Indian Lake” and a cover of “Hair” that helped bring that
counter-cultural phenomenon to a wider audience. Stigmatized by their sappy
sweet image as an innocuous PG-rated, family-friendly bubblegum band, they
provided the perfect blueprint for TV’s Partridge Family, before yielding to
the competition when their claim on the pop charts expired.

 

Naturally then, they weren’t given much of a second thought
thereafter, even though several family members gamely attempted to further
advance their own musical ambitions. Susan Cowsill spent time with the communal
combo the Continental Drifters before recording two excellent solo sets. Barry
Cowsill issued an album of his own, released shortly before Hurricane Katrina
struck his native New Orleans
and made him a victim of its fury. But it was Billy Cowsill who was the most
determined to carve out a career, beginning with his solo debut Nervous Breakdown, and subsequent
participation in the Co-Dependents and the Blue Shadows, a pair of Canadian
combos that kept him busy throughout much of the ‘90s.

 

Up until recently, Bill Cowsill’s work has been all but
impossible to locate here in the U.S., but thanks to the steadfast dedication
of a small Canadian indie label called Indelible Music, his recordings with the
Co-Dependents — as well as a solo show titled Live at Crystal Ballroom and his contributions to various
compilations — are now available from the company’s website (www.indeliblemusic.com). Now, along comes
On the Floor of Heaven, a reissue of
Bill’s first album with the Blue Shadows, expanded to a two disc set with the
addition of covers and outtakes from the original sessions. He shares the
spotlight with a perfect foil, Jeffrey Hatcher, veteran of a number of
north-of-the-border bands that crafted the framework for their Americana stance.

 

To be sure, the Blue Shadows were a traditional outfit with
an old-fashioned feel. While Cowsill and Hatcher were responsible for writing
most of the material, the music sounds as if it was written and recorded in the
‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, when honkytonk was rampant and barroom balladeers shed
tears in their beers. Steel guitar adds a suitably weepy touch to slower songs
like “A Thousand Times, “The Embers” and “Learn to Forget,” but it’s the
up-tempo tunes and lilting harmonies of “A Paper ‘N a Promise,” “Deliver Me,”
and “Think of It” that give the band its homegrown flair. That makes it all the
more disappointing that the Blue Shadows never got their due; with a little
push they might have sealed their place as the illegitimate offspring of the
Eagles, Poco and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Indeed, there’s a timeless quality to
this music. It’s manifested in part by their choice of covers – check their
rambunctious version of Joni Mitchell’s “Raised On Robbery” or their
appropriately Beatlesque take on an early Fab Four staple, Buzz Cason’s
“Soldier of Love” – as well as their stylistic debt to such famous forebears as
the Everly Brothers (“I Believe”), Buddy Holly (“Wonder ‘Bout Me”) and various
country crooners (“A Little Bit Lonesome, A Little Bit Blue,” “Heart of a Lion,
Soul of a Dove”).

 

Sadly, Cowsill succumbed to ongoing health issues in
2006, a year after his brother Barry passed, making any glory gained from this
wonderful reissue ultimately seem way too belated. Yet it’s also comforting to
know that with the Blue Shadows’ work finally seeing the light of day, Bill
Cowsill’s legacy may indeed live on.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Heart of a Lion, Soul
of a Dove,” “A Paper ‘n a Promise,” “Wonder ‘Bout Me” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

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