The Rowan Brothers
Now & Then
catalog-no. tx 3023
folk - 2005
The Rowan Brothers
Life can be funny in that things often tend to go in cycles. That's certainly true for the Rowan Brothers, Chris and Lorin. After a musical career that's spanned three decades, they have come full circle with this new two-CD set that you now hopefully own. The duo trod many musical path, but they are back together with their trademark harmonies, a wealth of new songs, and an abundance of enthusiasm. The album represents something of a new beginning for the brothers, while also tying up some loose ends. The two-disc set reflects the "Now" and the "Then" and, like their careers, it covers a lot of styles - including bluegrass, country, pop, and rock and roll, all laced with their impeccable harmonies. Disc one features a revitalized Chris and Lorin with a buoyant and melodic set of mostly new material (they rework a couple of their more popular cuts), while disc two features an expansive collection of archive material.
The brothers grew up in the suburban Massachusetts town of Ashland and were involved in music from an early age. Their older brother Peter made a name for himself first playing with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and then psychedelic jazz-rockers Earth Opera with David Grisman. Of course later he would become a solo star as well as a member of Old And In The Way with Grisman and Jerry Garcia - surprisingly, these two names would also cross paths with the younger Rowans and have a big impact on them.
Meantime, Chris and Lorin were playing in bands. Chris, a huge Beatles fan, went to England to seek fame and fortune - which he didn't find, but he had a lot of fun. As he recalls, "With my Les Paul in one hand, my Epiphone acoustic in the other, and my backpack on, I rode the Underground from London to Paul McCartney's house in St. John's Wood, where I rang the doorbell at the gated driveway. Paul's new wife Linda's voice came over the intercom, inquiring "Who Is It?" I said "I'm Chris Rowan and I've come all the way from America to play Paul a few songs." She replied "Sorry, Paul's not seeing anyone right now". My heart was crushed, but I soon got involved with Beatles producer George Martin's production company, Air London, where a music agent suggested I should change my stage name to "Rowan St. Christopher"."
Needless to say, he didn't change his name and eventually came back to the States.
In the late '60s, instrumental wizard David Grisman had a production company and was putting together a multi-artist project that was to include The Rowans, Jack Bonus, Maria Muldaur and others. The project was never finished, but Grisman and the young Rowans "put the dog in the car and said goodbye to mom", recalls Lorin, headed for where it was happening - San Francisco, where they still reside today. Living commune style with a large entourage, they quickly fell into the hippie scene and made friends with bands like the Grateful Dead and Grootna. Shortly thereafter, record company moguls Clive Davis and David Geffen got into a bidding war for the budding young songwriters. The brothers opted for Davis and Columbia and it looked as though Chris and Lorin were primed for major success with their debut album simply called "The Rowan Brothers", produced by Grisman under the pseudonym David Diadem. Grisman recently recalled The Rowans fondly by remembering that it was a good album and "They wrote really good songs." Unfortunately, record company politics - i.e. Clive Davis got fired in a scandal - came into play and despite its obvious quality and commercial potential the album sold only moderately. Geffen came to rescue and signed them to his new Asylum Records 1974, at this point Peter had joined the ranks, and they had shortened their name to The Rowans.
They then recorded three albums which sold quite well and they had one minor hit written by Chris, "If I Only Could" from "Sibling Rivalry", but their eclectic approach (they slipped Tibetan music with bluegrass and country rock) lost out to contemporaries like the Eagles, and the Souther, Hillman, Furay Band, at least in a commercial sense. Peter left and went on to more commercially lucrative musical pastures with more roots based bluegrass and country. Chris and Lorin soldiered on for a while but lost their momentum. Over the next decade or so they would, on occasion, reunite with Peter. They recorded an excellent acoustic "Three On A Hill" (Sugar Hill Records) in 1994 and "Crazy People" (Evangeline) in 2002. Lorin released a couple of solo albums and played in the rock/reggae band The Edge, and Chris also recorded a solo album.
Always a family, Chris and Lorin started recording material together again a few years back and found that they still had something to say. In many ways they have returned to their early roots, mixing bluegrass, alt-country, Everly Brothers-like rock and roll, as well as adding a few contemporary twists such as in "Circle of Friends", "How I Think of You", "Burn It On Down" and "Pathways". Chris and Lorin play an assortment of instruments between them, but they also recruited some of the best Bay Area players such as Phil Lesh, David Grisman, Barry Sless, Mookie Siegel, Robin Sylvester as well as fiddle legend Richard Greene and Dobro player Sally Van Meter. Lorin explains the impetus behind the new album, "It's all about the blood-brother harmonies, and the songs; wherever our career may go this gift of music continually inspires us to seek new ground, in whatever genre - there are no limits."
Given that many of their old albums have recently been reissued on CD, it initially
seemed like a good idea to include a few archive tracks for good measure. However,
so many tracks were found that the project metamorphosed into a two-CD set,
with a complete disc of archive material spanning back to the '70s. The late
Jerry Garcia adds sweet pedal steel guitar to "Waiting in the Garden"
and Bill Kreutzmann appears as well, as do drum legends Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner
and bassist extraordinaire Joe Osborn. As a special bonus there are four hidden
tracks at the end of the "Then" disc culled from one of the Rowan
Brothers first ever gigs in San Francisco, at the closing of the Fillmore West
on 7/2/71 when they opened for the Grateful Dead. You guessed it - members of
that band lent a hand to the aspiring Rowans during their set.
Spurred on by their new energy and spirit, the Brothers re-recorded Lorin's song "Soldier of the Cross" which was covered by Ricky Skaggs several years back and earned him a Grammy. The song is here renamed "Soldier's Cross". The cycle is complete, and the momentum is now. Enjoy!
Mick Skidmore, April 2004
See also: Rowan Brothers' Homepage
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