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Barry Cowsill, 1954-2005
Plus, the Entrance, and a new name for Planet Groove
BY BOB GULLA

We wanted to bid a formal adieu to Rhode Island legend Barry Cowsill, whose death was reported last week. He and I had spoken last summer about doing a story on what he was up to, but weren’t able to hook up. Certainly, we would not talk about the Cowsills, his child star-making vehicle. He had little interest in rehashing all that. His new stuff, as reported by Jim Gillis at the Newport Daily News, was really stellar and certainly worthy of attention.

"In 2004," Gillis writes, "Cowsill recorded several tracks, with Mike Warner on drums and Frank Dwyer producing, at Dwyer’s SoundScape studio in Newport. Cowsill played keyboards, guitar and bass and sang all vocals. Some of the tracks are re-recorded versions of songs on his 2001 CD As Is and others are new.

"The songs, such as ‘River of Love’ and ‘My Car Don’t Lock,’ are largely power pop with strong melodic hooks and crunching guitar chords. ‘Kid’ has a ragtime piano flavor, with Cowsill employing a fake trumpet effect with his vocals."

Barry’s first love, after his family, was music, and he spent much time and energy in the studio, where he was considered by many to be an eccentric, Brian Wilson-type genius. He had been playing frequently at Billy Goode’s in his hometown of Newport.

"He’s an absolute musical whiz in the studio," Warner told Gillis. "He knew what he wanted to do. Barry has the best pop sensibilities. In the studio, he was all business but a lot of fun."

But Barry, 51, never returned to finish the project, which still might see the light of day. He left for New Orleans last August, with plans for drug rehab in LA. But he disappeared sometime after Hurricane Katrina hit, around September 2. His body was discovered on January 4.

Says occasional collaborator Thom Enright, "Barry was a very talented and funny guy. He had a lot of great music left to finish. He used to show up at my gig Monday nights at Billy Goode’s in Newport and always bring a good vibe to the band and the crowd. A great singer and songwriter, he had a wonderful sense of humor and always a good story to tell. I’ll really miss him."

THIS WAY IN

The twisting and turning history of the Entrance, which began way back when the band members were in elementary school, feels like a Robert Altman film, with members coming, contributing, and subsequently going faster than customers at a fast-food restaurant. Now, after a long odyssey, the lineup has solidified, gelling into a multitasking quartet with Pat Conway on drums, Ben Wistey on bass, Tim Carroll on guitar, and front man Damian on vocals, piano, and assorted machines. They’re a noisy but compelling outfit with jam tendencies, a melodic center, and electronic overtones.

After seemingly dozens of people took their turn touching the band musically, the current lineup took its shape a year ago. Today, Damian and Wistey live together in an old house on Hope Street; Carroll lived there for a while before the roof caved in, making a couple of rooms unlivable. Still, it was home, one that felt more comfortable than the scores of other places they’ve inhabited. It was here, too, that they laid the groundwork for their so-called "Demo-’05" disc.

Like the diverse personalities that have shaped the band over the years, the band’s sound is wholly eclectic. Some of the tunes are dominated by piano and pretty melodies ("Hostage"), while others, such as "Death By Day," feature more tension and drama.

"We sound different on every song," says Damian. "Some are beautiful, some are ugly, some are jazz, some are electronic, some are classical, some are noisy, and some are lead paint playground music." While we’re not sure what the latter sounds like, we do know that the band is stir crazy in more ways than one, and prefers not to stick to a particular style. "We like to change it up live and our recordings don’t really do us justice at this point," Damian admits. The band is currently recording its first studio album with "the very patient" Dominick Panzarella, Keith Souza, Mike Viele, and Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets in East Providence. They’re aiming for a March release, then they’ll be on the road in early summer.

The band plays Thursday (the 19th) for all ages at AS220 with Boston bands Bourbon Princess and Humanwine. You can read more about them at www.theentrance.us or www.myspace.com/theentrance.

THE NAME GAME

To mark the beginning of 2006, our friends at Planet Groove have decided to switch identities. That is, they took a new name. After 10 years on the scene as Planet Groove, that wild beast of a rockin’ Afro-Cuban-Latino band, they’ve adopted a new moniker, Santa Mamba, which reflects the focus the band has embraced over the past few years.

"We realized that the name Planet Groove represented our beginning stages," says Ajay Coletta, "but a name change would better reflect our new membership and sound." Four years ago, PG took a decisive turn toward an Afro-Cuban vibe, distancing themselves from their original sonic hodgepodge of rock, jazz, jam, and Latin. "The definition of ‘Santa Mamba’ can be interpreted in many ways," adds Coletta, "but rather than bore you with our various ideas, let’s just say we like the way it sounds!" New Santa Mamba music, merchandise, and a website are in the works.

WANDERING EYE

This Friday (the 13th) at Billy Goode’s in Newport (401.848.5013), Mark Dufresne, the lungs behind Roomful of Blues, will team up with High Rollers guitarist Tom Ferraro for another-night-only blast of classic American music. John Packer, also of the High Rollers, will be playing bass and Jason Corbiere, also with Roomful, will be holding down the drums.

E-mail me with your music news at big.daddy1@cox.net.


Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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