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Jeff Cowell — Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold (2nd Feb. 2015)

Jeff Cowell — Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold (2nd Feb. 2015)

           Jeff Cowell — Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold 
♦π♦   To discover the mouldering, messy folk of Jeff Cowell is kind of like resuscitating a relationship with someone you haven’t seen or heard from in years. His rust–red chops and meaner–than–hell guitar licks are warm and familiar, but there’s a psychic distance, a hindering tension between what was and what is that stifles the euphoria: And in its absence is something derelict and devastating.” (Angel E. Fraden)
♦π♦   A hard–living country–folk troubadour from Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the vein of David Allan Coe and Townes Van Zandt.
Location: Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Album release: 2nd Feb. 2015
Recorded: in 1975
Record Label: NUMERO
Duration:     28:39
Tracks:
01. Jake Lake     2:23
02. Momma     2:37
03. Go Sweetly     3:58
04. And When     2:23
05. Lucky Strikes And Liquid Gold     3:38
06. We All Know     3:18
07. Bring Me Back     2:56
08. Can’t Make Nothin’     2:50
09. Joanne & Jason     2:11
10. Not Down This Low     2:25
Companies etc.:
♦π♦   Recorded at — Snail Records
Credits:
♦π♦   Design — Joe Cowell
♦π♦   Engineer — Ed Rehm, Ken Nordine Jr.
♦π♦   Photography — Joe Cowell
♦π♦   Producer — Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Written by — Jeff Cowell
Notes:
♦π♦   Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Ken Nordine.
Description:
♦π♦   Obscure country and western delights for the journey, new on Numero "Ten road–weary tales from the wrong side of outlaw country. Jeff Cowell may have huffed the same narcotic air as Townes Van Zandt and David Allan Coe, but hunkered far from the Nashville city limits, nary a Cash or Paycheck would drunkenly slur through his tunes. Recorded in 1975, Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is an isolated, backwoods loner epic, top–loaded with odes to hitch–hiking and rambling the crumbling Michigan countryside of Cowell’s hard–drinking youth. Previously available only out of the backs of borrowed cars, truck stops, campgrounds, and country–western bars between Algonac, Detroit, East Lansing, Cadillac, and Manistee, this LP now finds new life in similarly detached environs: the last remaining record stores.
♦π♦   Ten road–weary tales from the wrong side of outlaw country. Jeff Cowell may have huffed the same narcotic air as Townes Van Zandt and David Allan Coe, but hunkered far from the Nashville city limits, nary a Cash or Paycheck would drunkenly slur through his tunes.
♦π♦   Recorded in 1975, Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is an isolated, backwoods loner epic, top–loaded with odes to hitch–hiking and rambling the crumbling Michigan countryside of Cowell’s hard–drinking youth. Previously available only out of the backs of borrowed cars, truck stops, campgrounds, and country–western bars between Algonac, Detroit, East Lansing, Cadillac, and Manistee, this LP now finds new life in similarly detached environs: the last remaining record stores. ♦π♦   http://www.numerogroup.com/
VINYL
A1 Jake Lake     2:20
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Drums — Tom Radtke
♦π♦   Electric Piano — Manfredo Fest
♦π♦   Guitar — Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Pedal Steel Guitar — Butch Butler
A2 Momma     2:25
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Larry Olson
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Percussion — Larry Olson
♦π♦   Piano — Bob Falstien
A3 Go Sweetly     4:00
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Larry Olson
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Drums — Don Simmons
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Organ — Ricky Jans
A4 And When     2:25
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
A5 Lucky Strike's And Liquid Gold     3:35
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Debbie Sabusawa
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Drums — Rand Alquist
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Parsons, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Pedal Steel Guitar — Butch Butler
♦π♦   Piano — Bob Falstien
B1 We All Know     3:15
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Larry Olson
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Harmonica — Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Organ — Ricky Jans
♦π♦   Percussion — Don Simmons
♦π♦   Piano — Bob Falstien
♦π♦   Slide Guitar — Kris Nordine
B2 Bring Me Back     2:55
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Larry Olson
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Piano — Bob Falstien
♦π♦   Xylophone — Bob Falstien
B3 Can't Make Nothin'     2:55
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Bob Falstien, Larry Olson
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Drums — Don Simmons
♦π♦   Guitar — Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Organ — Ricky Jans
♦π♦   Piano — Bob Falstien
B4 Joanne And Jason     2:15
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
B5 Not Down This Low     2:25
♦π♦   Backing Vocals — Debbie Sabusawa
♦π♦   Bass Guitar — Doug Mazique
♦π♦   Drums — Rand Alquist
♦π♦   Guitar — Jeff Parsons, Kris Nordine
♦π♦   Lead Vocals — Jeff Cowell
♦π♦   Organ — Ricky Jans
♦π♦   Pedal Steel Guitar — Butch Butler
REVIEW
Angel E. Fraden, Head Editor | photographer | Posted on April 4, 2015
♦π♦   To discover the mouldering, messy folk of Jeff Cowell is kind of like resuscitating a relationship with someone you haven’t seen or heard from in years. His rust–red chops and meaner–than–hell guitar licks are warm and familiar, but there’s a psychic distance, a hindering tension between what was and what is that stifles the euphoria: And in its absence is something derelict and devastating.
♦π♦   Cowell’s rollicking sophomore effort Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold, was self–released in 1975 as a follow–up to his debut effort Plaint, also released that year. ♦π♦   Until this February, Lucky Strikes’ ten alluring tracks were coveted by a relatively sequestered audience, among the unscathed hinterlands and poorly lit country–western bars of his native Michigan. And as disconcerting as it is to note that more than four decades separate this record’s reissue and rediscovery from its initial conception, the time accumulated since Jeff Cowell recorded this album in Chicago’s now–defunct Snail 16 Track Studio has only saturated and nourished these songs for a new, auxiliary audience. His brilliant reintroduction, a venerable triumph salvaged from dilapidated pastimes, inspires resilience and unequivocal hope for lost sounds.
♦π♦   It’s difficult to think this loose–lipped and frisky singer–songwriter had any towering expectations for the record’s distribution. To self–release an album in 1975 was an incredibly audacious and high-stakes move, a world apart from the modern ubiquity of internet–mongering, DIY dissemination. Still, Jeff Cowell finds solace and satisfaction in this  deeply personal and self–confronting musical statement, mosaicked from blues–soaked prog rock, rockabilly and gospel–tinged soul. On the title track, when he sings over placid guitar chords, “Take me down on my knees/ I’m beggin’ for some quick relief,” it’s desexualized and desperate, imploring to be understood and pleading to be realized. He’s had a fight with his woman and he’s umpteen drinks in, trying to rise above the suffocating loneliness that hangs harsh and heavy on this record.
♦π♦   The thematic isolation conveyed on Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is striking in its frankness (“Lots of people they come to me saying/ What you doin’ way the heck out here”), but it’s most clearly defined on album opener “Jake Lake,” which features “a sad old man” ruined by a physical distance from reality and a cerebral distance from sobriety. A pedal steel guitar shifts and shimmies taut and tender as an electric Rhodes piano plods with sticky precision. Our narrator isn’t quite explicit about signifying this “drunken pumpkin humpin’ somethin’” as a harrowing projection of his own likely future, but the detailed derision isn’t enough to convince otherwise. Similarly off–color visions are illustrated on closing number “Not Down This Low,” far from bothered at potentially alienating listeners as he confesses, “I’ve got a family I had to leave way up north/ I hope they think I’m dead but down this low.” These two bookended tracks, the most strict and straightforward country tunes present, are easily the most quirky and convoluted.
♦π♦   Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold is obsessed with the place and placelessness of a restless soul. Cowell’s lyrical imagery, uncanny its lurid effectiveness, transports the listener on tracks like the organ–adorned “We All Know.” He lets out a solemn, exasperated sigh before singing, “Rolling down that steel highway, now I’m on a mountaintop/ Your shadow’s riding right beside me, and the blue sky never stops.” Drifting like a disembodied specter, Cowell is neither here nor there, riveted by the vociferous indecision of wanderlust (“And when I’m going yes no I’m leavin’/ And I’m never really ever gonna leave at all”). The only thing that seems to tether his wayfaring predilections is devotion for his woman (“You don’t know what it’s like to love you like I do”), but even this intimacy proves unsteady (“It’s not just for you that I’m living/ It’s also for this mother soil”).
♦π♦   Nature intrinsically doesn’t give you anything, and Cowell explores the irreconcilable tension between this and his own pastoral motivations. He preaches simple proverbs–the avid altruistism of “if you see me coming down your road, help me with my heavy load,” on “Momma” or the enterprising ode “Can’t Make Nothin’”, offering sensible guidance, “turn back and start all over again” and “can’t make nothin’ sittin’ down.” But his most poignant poetics resound from meandering, downtempo numbers like the funereal waltz “Bring Me Back,” where Cowell coos barely above a whisper, “So small, the wind and sun will hold me down […] Still I ask, will the wind that pulled me out bring me back again?” This invisible, driving force is what maintains Cowell’s vigor for the physical world, what perpetuates his movement, what keeps him singing.
♦π♦   Jeff’s gospel says death is an obstacle, a mere stepping stone and, most importantly, hopelessly irrelevant to the lives we lead. For him it’s all about the in–between, the movement, the journey, because once we get where we’re going, all we’ll remember is the how and not the why. Cowell bellows plaintive platitudes haggardly, sometimes meticulous and delicately, reserving his superlative performance for the only track where the songwriter isn’t accompanied by other musicians. It’s just him and his guitar on “Joanne & Jason”: a desolate and endlessly bewildering two–minute track. When he sings the line, “the day we’ve all been waiting for,” its implications are harrowing and ridden with death, as if that day is already long gone.
♦π♦   Cowell is a more than savvy storyteller, as adept at articulating his nomadic experience communing with the gnarled backwoods and rampant terrain of Northern Michigan as he is translating that feeling to a wider audience. Though most visual and aural relics of Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold are absent in the digital age, its memory and physicality has been handed down and exchanged from person to person. But this reissue is more relevant and more vital to present–day Western culture, where strict subjection to time and the absolute devaluation of place has distorted our idea of what it means to be human. Jeff Cowell’s music lets the tide roll in slow and steady, allows the beautiful pomp and circumstance of life to make its way to him, rather than the other way around. ♦π♦ http://indiecurrent.com/
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Jeff Cowell — Lucky Strikes and Liquid Gold (2nd Feb. 2015)

 

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