Continental Drifters | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Continental Drifters 

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A few years ago, when the Continental Drifters released a single of Fairport Convention's "Meet on the Ledge," they went so far as to copy the sleeve design of the beloved British folk rockers' 1969 masterpiece, Liege & Lief. Skin-deep album-cover tributes have become commonplace in indie pop, but this wasn't one of them--the Drifters, based in New Orleans, have long mirrored elements of Fairport's musical and personal chemistry. Like the great Sandy Denny, singer Susan Cowsill taps a deep wellspring of emotion, and just as guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson's quiet but prodigious talent colored the early Fairport albums, multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple shapes the Drifters' music mostly from the sidelines. You'd never confuse the British band's elegant balladry with the Drifters' gumbo of white soul, roots rock, and California harmonies, yet just as Fairport infused songs by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell with the elegiac stillness of British folk, the Drifters project the Top 40 they grew up on (the Shirelles, the Box Tops, the Monkees, Dusty Springfield) through a scrim of traditional American music, augmenting the usual pop-rock instrumentation with mandolin, banjo, and harmonica. The six members contribute a motley range of talents--Holsapple once fronted the dB's, Cowsill sang with the Cowsills (of course), Vicki Peterson hit the charts with the Bangles, Robert Mache played guitar for Steve Wynn--but the 14 originals that make up the 1999 Vermilion (Razor & Tie), the band's superb second album, weave those talents into a sound as fine as silk. "Drifters" glides along like a lazy creek, Holsapple's organ swirling around Mache's crisp, understated picking; in the verses Cowsill charts the group's history, from their weekly jam sessions in Los Angeles to the extended family they maintain in New Orleans. When Peterson and Holsapple chime in on the chorus, the three of them blend in dense harmony: "We're all drifters, singers and sisters / Brothers and lovers and mothers and confidantes / We were born alone, we're alone when we're gone / So while we're here, we might as well just sing along." The Drifters always welcome the audience into their family too, and if their last stop at Schubas was any indication, this ought to be one of the summer's best shows. Friday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

--J.R. Jones

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robley Dupleix.


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