Upon visiting Barry Cowsill's web site, you will be greeted by this statement: "Amidst various suicide attempts, a few near death car crashes, several personality disorders and years of anxiety over a past that still haunts, I figured I'd just shut the #%@& up and put out some tunes." The years have been volatile for this former teen idol and one time bassist for Sixties pop icons, The Cowsills, but As Is shows, Cowsill as a potential major contributor of low tech, eclectic roots rock.
The tracks here have a spontaneous, almost garage-band quality reminiscent of the early Replacements, but Cowsill's influence strongly favors The Stones around the Exile On Main Street era. Songs like "Train," and "Another Was A Brother," rock with a solid groove that makes you wonder how something as primitive as a Stratocaster guitar and a tube amp can make masterpieces that all the digital technology in the world can't.
But As Is does more than rock as in "Kid," a wistful, 1930's style swing number in which the narrator frets about his lack of true love and friendship, which is nothing unusual in itself, but throw in Cowsill's happy-go-lucky vocal delivery, and the song takes on an air of celebration of his lost love. Mad Magazine's motto, "What Me Worry?" comes to mind.
But probably my favorite song of the last six months is "Right Or Wrong," which tells the tale of the unfortunate souls who have to chose between caring for their families and doing something illegal to support them, all sung to the sweatiest Keith Richard-style guitar riffing. In fact, if Tom Petty were to do a cover of "Right Or Wrong," he probably would have a major hit on his hands. It's that good.
Almost as good is "River Of Love," which documents a failed relationship that might have finished off a weaker man, but even with the obvious sadness he has suffered, he is wise enough to know that a new love will eventually drift back into his life.
The one thing that is so likable about this recording is Cowsill's ability to project his good natured, informal personality through his songs, which invite the listener to: "sit back and enjoy the music, but if you've got someplace to be, it's OK, maybe next time." It's amazing that you can have such good rock n' roll with so little urgency. And I thought Ray Davies could only write rock for Type "B" personalities!
You can order As Is by mailing $18 to Moonstirm Inc., P.O. Box 5343, Sonora, CA 95370, or via the internet at www.lotuseater.net/barry