By now you know the story. A seemingly motley assembly of musicians from some celebrated and semi-celebrated bands and of both the female and male persuasions fall in together over a number of years, drift across the continent from Los Angeles to New Orleans, become a famously unfamous cult band that doesn’t leave home much — and, yes, plays really, really well, when you get to hear them.
The Continental Drifters’ fate from there, according to the Official Rock Band Disaster Guidebook, should be much like the Mamas & Papas, the original Fairport Convention, or the later Fleetwood Mac: interpersonal soap opera, singer and songwriter rivalry, then quick dissolution under the pressure of pure centrifugal force.
Not this time, folks.
With this new third disc, still self-produced, but the first made and distributed with a recognized U.S. label from the outset, the Continental Drifters turn expectations upside down, proving themselves to be at once more cohesive and more ready to spotlight individual members’ strengths than ever. Everybody’s backed up, and everybody gets a turn at bat.
The result is a collection that sounds like a product of the R&B-rich New Orleans of, say, Allan Toussaint, particularly in such Peter Hopsapple-penned, loosey-goosey, horn-enriched, funky-to-greasy cuts as “Too Little, Too Late”, “Down By The Great Mistake”, and the Muscle Shoals-style “Too Little, Too Late”.
There are three new tunes penned by Vicki Peterson, four by Holsapple, four by Susan Cowsill, and one by Mark Walton. A surprise standout is Peterson’s “That Much A Fool”, which is not only twangful, but will surely be one of the better new country and cajun love ballads released this year.
Special note must be made of the indie-rock numbers written and sung by Cowsill. Challenging, smart, experienced, relentless and regretful, these utterly distinctive offerings (“Snow”, “Cousin”, “Peaceful Waking”, “Someday”) are the stuff big-time solo careers are made of — at least in cases where the author would rather be alone.
But the Continental Drifters still want to be a group. And Better Day can handle its title without irony.