of 1992, Tuesday nights in Hollywood meant that the Continental
Drifters could be found on the stage of Raji's. Instigated
the previous year by drummer/singer Carlo Nuccio (who had
been in an early-'80s New Orleans precursor to the Subdudes
by the same name) and guitarist/singer Ray Ganucheau —
Louisiana émigrés getting some buddies together
to write and play for fun — the residency turned into
an indie-scene happening that attracted the cream of a likeminded
crop. The weekly roots-rock hootenanny eventually solidified
into an absurdly talented family containing multi-instrumentalist/singer
Peter Holsapple (ex-dB's), bassist Mark Walton (ex-Dream Syndicate)
and singer/guitarists Vicki Peterson (ex-Bangles) and Susan
By the time of the group's debut album, Ganucheau
was gone and the lineup had settled down to a six-piece with
five gifted songwriters and four lead singers. A powerful,
superbly played record of indescribable diversity —
put pins in the Band, the Bangles and the soulful side of
John Hiatt and connect the dots, that at least describes the
perimeter — Continental Drifters is a passionate, populist
winner in which everyone has a say worth hearing. If the singing
lacks precision, the depth of emotions put into — and
drawn from — the songs more than makes up for it.
sings Walton's angry "Get Over It" with the surety
of a woman who's been through it all and renders Goffin/King's
"I Can't Make It Alone" with aching sadness and
love; the rough edges of her own "Desperate Love"
can't obscure its fiery core. Peterson's frustration at the
"Mixed Messages" she's getting is palpable, as is
her determination in Mike Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's
Blues." Holsapple gives a handsome burnish to "Soul
Deep" (a Wayne Thompson song done by the Box Tops) and
tells an enigmatic romantic tale in the swaying "Invisible
Boyfriend." Nuccio bounces through life's ups and downs
in "New York" and "Mezzanine." Rather
than a sampler of co-dependent solo artists, Continental Drifters
is a sympathetic collective of individual hearts, minds and
voices strengthening each other.
Continental Drifters’ 1994 self-titled debut sent a minor
tremor through the roots-rod world. The fabled supergroup
of Mark Walton (Dream Syndicate), Vicki Peterson (Bangles)
Susan Cowsill (of those Cowsills) Peter Holsapple (dB’s),
Robert Maché (Steve Wynn) and drummer Carlo Nuccio had finally
committed its five-songwriting attack to CD — but the band’s
label, Monkey Hill, lacked wide spread distribution. In
short, it was a great album, if you could find it.
fresh mix and remastering have graced it with a crisper
more vibrant sound, though comparisons to the band’s l999
follow-up, Vermilion, are unavoidable. Where the
latter disc’s seeping emotional breadth stretched from Holsapple’s
passionately romantic "I Want To Learn To Waltz With You"
to Cowsill’s edgy childhood reminiscence "Spring Day In
Ohio" and Peterson’s "Who We Are, Where We Live" (a heart-stopper
about losing her fiancé to leukemia) the debut seems content
to merely rock out.
it rocks with the best of them. The Walton-penned "Get Over
It" highlights Cowsill’s raspy country wail as it blasts
over a wall of tightly intertwined guitars. Holsapple’s
"Invisible Boyfriend" finds him pouring out dense, melodic
layers of slide guitar that bend and wind like old backroads.
of the eleven tracks are covers — a surprising choice for
a band with such songwriting talent, but each sounds like
definitive Drifters tune by the time they finish with it.
Pat McLaughlin’s "Highway Of The Saints" takes on a spiritual
"Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ vibe as the musicians trade
lead vocals. The Box Tops’ "Soul Deep" is transformed into
a rough-hewn rave-up, and Gram Parsons’ "A Song For You"
closes the album on a appropriate note of longing.
biggest treats, though, are "Mezzanine" and "New York",
both penned and sung by Nuccio, who left prior to Vermilion.
His New Orleans roots and raw vocals (perhaps the male
equivalent of Cowsill’s) conjure up a wild Little Feat ruckus
that the band lost with his departure.
The previously difficult-to-find debut from the News Orleans-based Continental
Drifters gets a new lease on life. Razor & Tie Entertainment,
which released the pop-rock-country collective's second
album, 1999's Vermilion, has reissued the group's
1994 debut. It's worth revisiting or else knowing for the
Hearing this soulful, rootsy collection of consistently fine songs and
performances makes one wonder why the Continental Drifters
haven't achieved Wilco-, Son Volt- and Jayhawks-style success.
Including former Cowsills member Susan Cowsill, the Bangles'
Vicki Peterson and former 'dB's member Peter Holsapple,
Continental Drifters boasts a particularly strong lineup.
Band members share lead vocals and harmonize in memorable originals --
including the Cowsill-sung "Get Over It" and Peterson's
sparkling "Mixed Messages" -- as well as such smartly chosen
covers as Monkee Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's Blues"
and the Boxtops' "Soul Deep." Continental Drifters
is hidden treasure.
Record of the Week
Originally released back in 1994, The Continental Drifters'
self-titled debut LP is back in print in practically identical
form, i.e., no bonus tracks, no new liner notes, no art
differences, etc. No problem, it doesn't need them. When
the it was originally released it was one of those lifetime
discs; one that you carry with you as go through life and
continue to play regularly, marveling at just how good it
is, or just letting it carry you away from all the mundane
bullshit; one of those that make your desert island list.
It doesn't matter how many time you've played it, it always
sounds fresh, and like an old friend it doesn't matter how
long it's been since you were last together, you just pick
right up where you left off, whether it was yesterday or
several years ago.
It's hard to classify the Drifters - they have an impeccable
pop pedigree, including as they do former members of The
Bangles (Vicki Peterson), Cowsills (Susan Cowsill), and
dB's (Peter Holsapple). Carlo Nuccio, as well as being a
former Subdude has played with Tori Amos, and Mark Walton
did time with The Dream Syndicate and Giant Sand, so there's
a significant roots factor as well. They seamlessly blend
folk, pop, rock, country, and soul into the record. Nobody
has integrated that range of influences as fully since The
Band's prime. And like Robbie, Garth, Rick, Richard, and
Levon they have four vocalists and blend those voices so
that they spar, intertwine and complement each other; more
in an old-time country manner than the more familiar and
common Beach Boys and Motown method. "Highway Of The Saints"
is the most Band-like number - slow and mournful, it resonates
with history and character as three different lead vocalists
tell the story, and Holsapple contributes a wonderful Hammond
organ to anchor it all.
The LP's weakest track is Nuccio's "Mezzanine." There's a
heavy John Hiatt vibe to both his vocals and the song. On
any other LP, Hiatt's included, it'd be a highlight, so
it's the weak sister here purely by virtue of the company
it keeps. The pure emotion of tracks like Walton's "Get
Over It" and Peterson's "Mixed Messages" make a strong case
for pop songs as the sin qua non method of conveying heartache.
Cowsill's "Desperate Love" is a marvel of raw emotion, and
could well have been a Dusty Springfield masterpiece if
she'd been able to cut it; this version is pretty damn close
to perfect, though.
Five of the eleven tracks are covers and their choices are
brilliant. Along with the Goffin-King penned Bill Medley
obscurity "I Can't Make It Alone," they tackle The Box Top's
"Soul Deep" and Mike Nesmith's "Some Of Shelley's Blues."
But the LP's best cover, and best track, is their version
of Gram Parson's "A Song For You." (It's also the best version
of a Parson's song, ever - Gram's included.) Holspapple
and then-wife Cowsill's voices interweave and challenge
each other, making for the perfect LP closer - you just
want to hit play and start all over again.
With its influences all wrapped together as tightly as they
are, I guess soul music is the best descriptor. It's music
full of soul and for the soul, same as that of Otis Redding,
Dusty Springfield, Charlie Rich, Gram Parsons, Duane Allman,
and Charles Mingus.
And as good as I thought this record was when I first heard
it back in 1994, I think it's even better now. In fact,
I can't think of a better LP released in the 90s. No bullshit
Sept. 10, 1994
Long-anticipated and longer on promise, the debut album
from this loose, live musical conglomeration delivers, and
then some. The Drifters whose members include Peter Holsapple
of the dB's, former Bangle Vicki Peterson, and Susan Cowsill
of that fabled pop family have built an ardent following
through a series of club gigs in LA and New Orleans, and
the easy spirit and heartfelt delivery that sparked the
strong word of mouth prevails on such inspired covers as
"Some Of Shelly's Blues" and "A Song For You," and superior
originals like "Invisible Boyfriend." The sound is swaying
roots rock cum country/Cajun; the harmonies, sweet; and
the verdict, killer.
On their eponymous debut album, (Monkey Hill/Sky/Ichiban.****) New Orleans-via-L.A.
semisupergroup the Continental Drifters suggest an idealistic
parallel musical reality located somewhere between "1,2,3,
Red Light" and Music From Big Pink. With four credible lead
voices trading off with organic ease, this democratic group
achieves a gracefully expansive roots-pop vision that neatly
encompasses ex-dB Peter Holsapple's tuneful sensitivity
("Invisible Boyfriend"), drummer Carlo Nuccio's down-home
irony ("Mezzanine") and former Bangle Vicki Peterson's grown-up
bubble-gum ("Mixed Messages"). The nicest surprise here,
though, is former preteen prodigy Susan Cowsill, who shines
on bassist Mark Walton's "Get Over It" and on her own "Desperate
Love." There's also a smart selection of covers, notably
Cowsill's soulful reading of Dusty Springfield's "I Can't
Make It Alone" and Holsapple's impassioned take on Gram
Parsons' "A Song For You."
CMJ New Music Report
Vol 40 No. 3 Issue 398
October 10, 1994
When the Continental Drifters started out in Los Angeles in 1992, they
didn't consider themselves a band, but more of a loose assembly
of friends who got together to play some songs they liked.
But they weren't just any musicians, they were Peter Holsapple
of dB's/R.E.M. fame, Susan Cowsill (yes, those Cowsills),
Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Dream Syndicate bassist Mark
Walton and Carlo Nuccio, who has worked extensively with
Tori Amos. They form a decidedly atypical combo, but one
that worked together very well on stage. In 1993 they moved
to New Orleans, where Nuccio had started out in a precursor
to the Subdudes, and became a real band. Their debut cuts
a wide swath through American music at its finest. Each
member contributes a song (Nuccio gives two, induding the
righteous and rootsy "Mezzanine") and they cover material
from the likes of Gram Parsons (a fabulous take on "A Song
For You"), Michael Nesmith ("Some Of Shelly's Blues"), Pat
McLaughlin ("Highway Of The Saints") and the Boxtops ("Soul
Deep"). The Continental Drifters are the kind of band that
would have been passed up by radio a couple of years ago
because they don't sound like anyone else around today,
but they're just the type of band that Triple AAA radio
was born to play.
No. 59 Nov/Dec 1994
CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS: I first saw the Drifters in 1992 when they opened
for Bob Dylan in L.A. They knocked me out, managing to bottle
up the unpredictable sting of the Band, the chiming pop
grace of the Byrds, and the ragged adventurousness of Giant
Sand. The group had recently formed among members of L.A.'s
veteran pop/punk scene during weekly jam sessions at the
Hollywood dive Raji's: bassist Mark Walton had played with
the Dream Syndicate, Vicki Peterson was a Bangle, Peter
Holsapple came from NC/NYC power-popsters the dBs, and Susan
Cowsill had been a child star in the '60s family band the
Cowsills (on whom the Partridge Family was modeled). Two
years later, Holsapple and Cowsill have married and had
a child, and the Drifters have moved to New Orleans, where
they recorded their debut album. Solid, energetic, and consistently
appealing, the collection romps from first-generation California
country-rock (no Eagles insipidness here) to cluesy, Southern-tinged
rock'n'roll. Multi-instrumentalist Holsapple lays the musical
foundation with his pop smarts while Peterson and Cowsill
display their distinctive vocals on originals (Cowsill's
powerful "Desperate Love" and Peterson's "Mixed Messages")
as well as covers like Goffin-King's "I Can't Make It Alone"
and Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelly's Blues." Drummer
Carlo Nuccio's two original tunes, "Mezzanine" and "New
York" have a gritty, soulful, Southern Rock flavor, but
lean a bit too close to bar-band cliche for comfort. The
vast majority of this, however is top-notch.
sampling of critical response to "Continental Drifters"
"a refreshingly unpretentious blend of rock, soul and country,
wide ranging yet surprisingly... coherent... Continental
Drifters has a family, shared feel, not unlike early records
by The Band." CD REVIEW 12/94
"hard to resist... if you take a bunch of players from wildly
different backgrounds, you might get a classic American
rock-and-country band... harmonies to die for..." NEW COUNTRY
"a spirit of community and good-natured exchange, along
with the know-how to make the music roll, swing, celebrate
or plead, imbues the album with a constant air of honesty
and commitment." METROLAND 11/94
"solid, energetic and consistently appealing..." OPTION
"a warm rootsy feel... a rare feat in contemporary music..."
"Continental Drifters may be the best working band in the
United States... (they) have tapped a rare essence, and,
as long as there is electricity to power guitars and amps,
this music will never go out of style."
L.A. WEEKLY 9/94
"long-anticipated and longer on promise, the debut album...
delivers, and then some. The sound is swaying roots-rock-cum-
country/Cajun; the harmonies, sweet; the verdict, killer."
"a fathomless pool of writing talent... their sound is graceful
and unaffectedly lush."
ROLLING STONE 12/94