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Published: 2002/04/22
by Pat Buzby

Always Take Me Back – John Cowan

Sugar Hill Records 3932

A veteran of New Grass Revival, John Cowan displays a great deal of ambition
below a simple surface on his second solo CD. Cowan attempts to convey deep
emotions regarding his relationships with his late father and brother.
Musically, too, Always Take Me Back reflects an interest in both
bluegrass and rock.

As for how well he succeeds, as they say, your mileage may vary. Cowan
isn't afraid of sentiment or bombast in addressing the issues of his family,
even verging on a Lennonesque primal scream in "18 Years", which might
alienate and attract equal amounts of listeners. He has a strong tenor
voice, but its strength often leads to a resemblance to the demi-prog-rock
singing styles heard from the likes of Kansas or Boston. (There's a
peculiar prog streak on this disc — Yes and King Crimson homages both
appear.) As well, though there's plenty of banjo, dobro and the like, these
instruments are seldom more than seasoning in an AOR or adult
contemporary-flavored musical setting.

If those qualities don't drive you away, there's lots to enjoy on Always
Take Me Back. Each cut is memorable, and Cowan (probably aided by
producer Wendy Waldman) displays a strong sense of pacing, leading the
program easily from reflective cuts like "Blood" and "In My Father's Field"
to humorous bits such as "Two Quarts Low". He and his band never fail to
impress with their performances, as well, and there are cameos from Waldman
and John Bell, among others.

If artists like Yes or Waldman had the place on the charts that they once
did, Cowan would have a surefire radio hit with this CD. As it is, for this
listener, Always Take Me Back is a slightly guilty pleasure.

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