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The Boston Phoenix

The Cowsills
(Robin Records)

Suppose that a quintessential '60s pop group had been jettisoned into the '90s, Austin Powers-style. That's pretty much the story here: These Cowsills are four of the same Newport-rooted siblings who did the bubblegum hits and the milk commercials in the late '60s.

In recent years they've made a serious stab at new material, and these tracks were cut in 1992 before sister Susan joined the Continental Drifters full-time -- legend has it that two major labels were prepared to release it before they found out who the band was. Too bad, because this is a model power-pop album; warm enough to charm and tough enough to resonate; steering clear of both camp and nostalgia (a couple of their old song titles get worked into the lyrics, an in-joke for '60s diehards). In terms of style, think of Fleetwood Mac with stronger British Invasion leanings, or a secret session between the Figgs and Fuzzy.

Susan's vocals are the immediate grabber - she's got the same kind of countryish purity that Linda Ronstadt had toward the start of her career - but the album hinges equally on the four-part harmonies and Bob Cowsill's songwriting. Bob's carried his AM-radio sensibilities from the '60s, and these tunes represent a longstanding quest for the perfect hook: "Rescue" and "What I Believe" are new songs that sound like long-lost 1965 charttoppers, even if the crisp guitar sound is more contemporary.

What's also endured about the old Cowsills is a noble kind of naivete: They still make you believe that love and hooks can save the world - or at least provide three minutes of emotional rescue.

(Available from ).

1998 Brett Milano and Boston Phoenix

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Last updated: April 16, 2005

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