CD Reviews for 11/18/05 – Sarah Borges, Marah, Susan Cowsill by Dan Ferguson

Compact Capsules for 11/18/05
by Dan Ferguson

Call them the original Partridge Family. In fact, if it wasn’t for The Cowsills there likely would not have been any Partridge Family. During the latter half of the 1960s, The Cowsills were responsible for placing the biggest little state in the union and in particular, Newport, on the pop music map. Gigging regularly at a joint on Bannisters Wharf at the outset, The Cowsills hit paydirt in 1967 with the song “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” which reached number two spot on the pop charts and sold over a million copies. Hits like “Indian Lake” and “We Can Fly” followed before the group would strike major gold in 1969 with a version of the title song to the rock musical “Hair”. The only female sibling in the Cowsill clan, Susan Cowsill would not join the family band until 1967 at the age of seven. She’d make an immediate impact and become a mainstay in the group through its various incarnations. She’d spend time in the Dwight Twilley Band during the 1980s and in the 1990s with New Orleans-based roots pop supergroup the Continental Drifters where she’d remain until the band’s demise a few years ago. These days Cowsill is working on a solo career and her debut recording called Just Believe It has just been nationally released. It leads the Compact Capsules charge this week.

Susan Cowsill
Just Believe It
Blue Corn Music BCM0505

Singing has been second nature to Susan Cowsill over the course of her 40-plus years, however, not until the release of the album Just Believe It has she been in a solo role. Released for Houston-based Blue Corn Music, Just Believe It is an appetizing gumbo that finds the New Orleans-based singer and songwriter drawing inspiration from her many varied stops on the musical highway. Accompanied by her husband (and former Continental Drifters bandmate) Russ Broussard on drums, Chris Knotts on lead guitar and Rob Savoy on bass, melody is all over Just Believe It. It is a rootsy pop affair that wears well on the ears. With the exception of a fine cover of Sandy Denny’s haunting “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, Cowsill wrote or co-wrote 13 of the 14 songs on this record. Standouts include the catchy nugget “Palm of My Hand”, the two-step alt country sweetness of “Just Believe It”, the power pop of “I Know You Know”, and the stirring balladry of “Nanny’s Song” featuring a duet with Lucinda Williams. Savoring this solo debut from Susan Cowsill, the burning question is what took her so long. (Blue Corn Music, 1114 Barkdull, Houston, TX 77006, or

Sarah Borges
Silver City
Blue Corn Music BCM-0501

She wowed them in Austin at her 2004 performance during the South-by-Southwest Music Conference and at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville this past September. Sarah Borges is her name and in short time she has proved herself a force to be reckoned with. Flying back to Rhode Island in March of 2004 after attending my first SXSW Conference in Austin, I couldn’t get the memory of Borges’ performance out of my head. Who would’ve thought that of all the acts I witnessed, it was a little-known, full of swagger female singer/guitarist from Boston who would make the greatest impression. The real kicker was her show was not even a SXSW-sanctioned event. The locale was the beer garden of legendary Southern comfort food restaurant Threadgill’s on a warm Thursday night. Positioned at the end of a lengthy day of music, not much was left of the crowd by time Borges and her band took the stage. A thin, petite brunette with a guitar slung around her neck, just seconds into her opening number the twentysomething Borges was a monstrous presence. Together with her limber band, she delivered a jolt of rock and roll unlike anything the venue had seen that day. Some thirty minutes later when she delivered the final knockout punch of what was a mesmerizing set, those in attendance were united in agreement that they had witnessed something special. Simply put, Borges’ set was hands-down off-the-scale. In a sense, the shame of it all was she didn’t even have an album available as yet to sell. Instead, she handed out free two-song CDs to those lining up to meet her. Word of her Threadgills performance quickly spread amongst the roots/Americana cognoscenti in the process jumpstarting Borges’ career helping to land her a deal with Houston-based Blue Corn Music who released her debut recording Silver City this past Spring. As debut recordings go, the 12-track Silver City is full of promise. Featuring nine Borges originals to go with covers from a varied collection of tunesmiths including Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake (“Mellow Doubt”) and legendary gospel songwriter Thomas Dorsey (“I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About In My Song” which she turns into a haunting country number) to go with some terrific original numbers, torch and twang with roots rock sensibility defines Silver City. Borges is energized right out of the gates with the infectious, one-two punch of “All This Weight” and “Daniel Lee”. Track 3, “Same Old 45”, begins on a simmering note before going for the throat. Blake’s “Mellow Doubt” follows and the Taunton native, who has been working the Boston scene for just over 10 years now, gives the song its due singing with unbridled passion. The stunning ballad “Ring In the Shape of a Heart”, all about getting lost in liquor and love, follows and is a knockout tome for the barfly set. Equally potent is the heartfelt “Pious Proud” featuring the sweet pedal steel guitar of Steve Malone to go with the perfectly placed mandolin of fellow Beantowner Jimmy Ryan (Blood Oranges) on which Borges opens a vein of emotion. Produced, recorded and mixed by studio wizard Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, The Pixies), Silver City is an album which just may be the best thing to come out of New England in 2005. Certainly it reigns as debut recording of the year.

Sarah Borges appears at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA on Saturday, November 19. Show time is 8 PM. The Narrows is located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River. Call (508) 324-1926 or check the web site at

If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry
Yep Roc YEP-2098

Touted by author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, Fever Pitch) in a New York Times Op/Ed piece around time of the 2004 release 20,000 Streets Under the Sky as saviors of real rock ‘n’ roll garnered the band Marah quite a bit of attention. 20,000 Streets lived up to the billing. Just over a year later, Marah is back with a new platter much in the mold of 20,000 Streets titled If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry. Fronted by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko who began the band in their working class neighborhood in the City of Brotherly Love, there’s always been a real street feel to the songs and music of Marah. Call it music full of the kind of commotion you expect from tight urban quarters be it horns, bells, barking dogs, street-corner hoots or handclaps. It brings an urgency to the Marah sound not far removed from similarly styled material from a cat called Springsteen who also hailed from these Middle Atlantic environs and favored that same sort of hustle and bustle in his music. Think songs like “Rosalita” and “Born to Run”. For this latest release, Marah’s songs draw from beyond Philly lines. Blame that on the fact that the brothers Bielanko now call New York City home, or more precisely, Brooklyn. Brooklyn plays into the proceedings right off the bat on the first cut called “The Closer” which name drops Williamsburg drags like Metropolitan Avenue and Berry Street. While the band has evolved considerably since its first album (Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight, 1998) which recorded above an auto repair shop in South Philly, Marah retains all the looseness and rawk that has defined its music over the course of what is now five albums. Songs like “The Hustle”, “Fatboy”, “The Demon of White Sadness” and “Poor People” the latter of which features dog barks are pure Marah. Recorded live in the studio with the intention of capturing the energy of the live shows the band is renowned for, If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry rocks plenty. At the same time, Marah displays a maturity in sound on numbers like the Philly-flavored “Walt Whitman Bridge, “City of Dreams”, “So What If We’re Out of Tune” and “The Dishwasher’s Dream” all of which are as close to acoustic woodshedding as the band has ever come. Folk-punk is how Serge Bielanko categorizes If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry in the accompanying press release and it’s tough to argue that one. Recommended. (Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515, or

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)<...