Most people's memories of the Cowsills are confined to their giddy hits of the late 60s - "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," "We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" and a cover of "Hair" that helped bring that counter-cultural phenomenon to a wider audience. Stigmatized by their sappy sweet image as an innocuous PG-rated, family-friendly bubblegum band, they provided the perfect blueprint for TV's Partridge Family, before yielding to the competition when their claim on the pop charts expired.
Naturally then, they weren't given much of a second thought thereafter, even though several family members gamely attempted to further advance their own musical ambitions. Susan Cowsill spent time with the communal combo the Continental Drifters before recording two excellent solo sets. Barry Cowsill issued an album of his own, released shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck his native New Orleans and made him a victim of its fury. But it was Billy Cowsill who was the most determined to carve out a career, beginning with his solo debut Nervous Breakdown, and subsequent participation in the Co-Dependents and the Blue Shadows, a pair of Canadian combos that kept him busy throughout much of the 90s.
Up until recently, Bill Cowsill's work has been all but impossible to locate here in the U.S., but thanks to the steadfast dedication of a small Canadian indie label called Indelible Music, his recordings with the Co-Dependents -- as well as a solo show titled Live at Crystal Ballroom and his contributions to various compilations -- are now available from the company's website (www.indeliblemusic.com). Now, along comes On the Floor of Heaven, a reissue of Bill's first album with the Blue Shadows, expanded to a two disc set with the addition of covers and outtakes from the original sessions. He shares the spotlight with a perfect foil, Jeffrey Hatcher, veteran of a number of north-of-the-border bands that crafted the framework for their Americana stance.
To be sure, the Blue Shadows were a traditional outfit with an old-fashioned feel. While Cowsill and Hatcher were responsible for writing most of the material, the music sounds as if it was written and recorded in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when honkytonk was rampant and barroom balladeers shed tears in their beers. Steel guitar adds a suitably weepy touch to slower songs like "A Thousand Times, "The Embers" and "Learn to Forget," but it's the up-tempo tunes and lilting harmonies of "A Paper N a Promise," "Deliver Me," and "Think of It" that give the band its homegrown flair. That makes it all the more disappointing that the Blue Shadows never got their due; with a little push they might have sealed their place as the illegitimate offspring of the Eagles, Poco and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Indeed, there's a timeless quality to this music. It's manifested in part by their choice of covers - check their rambunctious version of Joni Mitchell's "Raised On Robbery" or their appropriately Beatlesque take on an early Fab Four staple, Buzz Cason's "Soldier of Love" - as well as their stylistic debt to such famous forebears as the Everly Brothers ("I Believe"), Buddy Holly ("Wonder Bout Me") and various country crooners ("A Little Bit Lonesome, A Little Bit Blue," "Heart of a Lion, Soul of a Dove").
Sadly, Cowsill succumbed to ongoing health issues in 2006, a year after his brother Barry passed, making any glory gained from this wonderful reissue ultimately seem way too belated. Yet it's also comforting to know that with the Blue Shadows' work finally seeing the light of day, Bill Cowsill's legacy may indeed live on.