John Cowan - New Tattoo

The John Cowan Band
New Tattoo


First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6

Written by John Metzger


Since the break-up of New Grass Revival, John Cowan’s output has been, at best, sporadic and scattered. Swerving from the R&B flavors of Soul’d Out to the progressive rock textures of Always Take Me Back, he seemingly has done everything in his power to put some serious stylistic distance between himself and his former band. Throughout his latest endeavor New Tattoo, Cowan continues to employ an array of diversionary tactics, but his return to the roots-oriented waters within which he initially established himself gives the set an organic essence that almost succeeds in keeping the entirety of the album afloat.

For the record, there are a few misfires: None of New Tattoo’s centerpieces — In Bristol Town, Red Birds (in a Joshua Tree), and Working in the New Mine — are terribly engaging. Yet, where the soul-imbued Love’s Like Rain previously might have sounded cold and calculated, on New Tattoo it is embraced by a warm, earthy glow. Perhaps the strangest tune on the effort, however, is the concluding track Drown during which Cowan chillingly revisits the molestation that he faced as a child. Both his lyrics and his vocals are hauntingly powerful, but the song ultimately is undercut by its deliberative arrangement, which taps into the dramatic grandeur of Dennis DeYoung.

Not surprisingly, it’s the more straightforward selections on New Tattoo — the rambunctious bluegrass of Carla’s Got a New Tattoo, for example, as well as the southern California-imbued country-rock of Hurting Sure and Back to Your Arms — that truly standout because their lack of pretense highlights The John Cowan Band’s exquisite instrumental and harmonic proficiency. It’s here that Cowan demonstrates that he just might be in the process of righting a ship that appeared to capsize some time ago. starstar ˝

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2006 The Music Box