MONTECITO JOURNAL – February 24, 2005
By Steven Libowitz
DEATH AND CREDIT CARD DEBT
many could regard his style as intimate or meditative, there's a
comedic side to David Cowan's music with such ditties as 'Montecito
White Trash Barbecue,' a look back at his days of sharing the hedgerow
district with Oprah Winfrey."
are lots of CDs released by local musicians every year and we surely
can't cover all of them. On the other hand, you can hardly expect
us to ignore the sophomore effort from David Cowan, a former longtime
Montecito resident who still maintains workspace in a highly coveted
area of the village. Especially when the album includes a song titled
"Montecito White Trash Barbecue."
what? You dissin' our digs, Dave?
at all, says the very unassuming and soft-spoken Cowan, an Ohio
native who moved here more than 15 years ago. Early on, he found
a small guest house on a multi-acre horse farm off Santa Rosa Road
for very reasonable rent. It was a quaint and quiet hideaway in
the heart of Montecito. Quiet, that is, until Oprah Winfrey bought
that little spread nearby.
neighborhood was suddenly inundated with helicopters and planes
buzzing the place every weekend, here I was, little me, just a renter
out here living quietly on some nice property, with very nice owners,
surrounded by very interesting people. And suddenly there's all
this media attention.
excerpts illustrate the situation: "On a perfectly foggy Sunday
afternoon / Surrounded by the targets of the paparazzi / Hidden
in the hedgerow, firing up the barbecue… I haven't tidied
up since I can't say when… / Just up the road linger remnants
of the ages / JFK and Jackie honeymooned there / Right next door
Oprah's kicking back in the grandest of places / I'd like to welcome
her to the neighborhood … close to the shore I hear ghosts
laughing / At the ghost of Charlie Chaplin pulling pranks in the
halls of his funky hotel / But down here I'm just flipping through
these white trash cookbook pages / And I'm gonna have me a big ol'
those who know Cowan would surely attest, the new CD, "The
Finite Nature of Things," is the perfect soundtrack for a lazy
weekend backyard gathering for a guy whose tastes run more to "Mammy's
Mashed Pee-taters" than champagne and caviar. Need more proof?
The CD, like its predecessor four years ago (no one's writing blank
checks to finance these babies, folks)is released under Cowan's
rather inglorious band name, Clod Hopper, which the dictionary defines
as both a "string, heavy work shoe" and a "clumsy,
awkward fellow." The name was chosen for both references, Cowan
admits, as well as a nod to American painter Edward Hopper.
its even, mid-paced tempos and warm sonorous sensibility "The
Finite Nature of Things," could serve as the soundtrack to
the painter's dark scenes of the American life. But where the previous
album, "Four in the Morning," tried to be all things to
all alt-country-rockers, the new disc has a more cohesive feel.
Indeed, only "White Trash…" and "Stout Dinner"–
about his preferred pre-show meal of a couple of Guinness pints
– are the only off-the-cuff songs on the collection, which
is far more densely populated with autobiographical themes and introspective
ruminations. If his debut was observations and commentary on the
world around him, " Nature" seems to have sprung up from
the inside out.
is a more intimate record," Cowan agrees, "I've been examining
different aspects of my life from childhood, to current relationships,
to the situation of trying to make it in Santa Barbara as a Midwestern
transplant with no local roots."
in such confessional songs as "The Other Side," "Alabama
Rose," "Fifteen Days" and "Moment in Time"
Cowan moves beyond examination into a territory you might call musical
song is like a little vignette from my life," he says, "I
guess there were some things I needed to get off my chest. It's
a kind of life, death and credit card debt record. I've written
other kinds of songs in the last four years, but these were important
to me, things that were building up inside – about moments
in your life that matter or opportunities missed – that I
wanted to get out and move on. It was cathartic in that way."
where is that clearer than on "Surely Follow" –
which contains the title line among its lyrics – a meditation
of regret and redemption over the unexpected passing of a close
friend: "The sky is black over there... darker than I have
ever known / I should have stopped on by when the light still filled
moment of reflection lingers, "You can look at a collection
of photographs and realize that there are some absolutely pivotal
moments in your life," he says, "But the challenge is
to be present in the moment and appreciate what's going on."
the words delineate a spiritual growth, Cowan's singing is moving
in stride. Where the debut found him with more grit than grace,
"Nature" offers his finest vocals to date, smoother and
more on target, which he chalks up to experience.
years I was mostly just a songwriter and a musician who supported
others," Cowan explains. "I played guitars in bands backing
up artists all over town (The list includes Nicola Gordon, Jeff
Bisch and Earl Arnold) The first CD was my first venture claiming
authorship vocally for the songs I had written. So I think I am
finding my voice. And I'm more comfortable singing in the studio."
with other self produced musicians, Cowan has his work cut out for
him, finding an audience for the new album beyond the South Coast.
There's no major record company push or even a nudge from an independent
label behind him. But he virtually sold out the 1,000-CD run of
the last disc. The internet and some planned mini-tours are the
next step. (Perhaps he should contact Oprah?)
just enjoy writing and producing, but of course, I'd like to get
it out there too. Hopefully, other people will enjoy it, too,"
says Cowan, who has attended nearly every concert in the Sings Like
Hell series, and speaks of his own growth as a result of it. "You
can see where someone is coming from and it's comforting to know
that they're experiencing similar situations. It's great if people
can connect to these songs, but honestly, they were written from
a personal perspective.
here to read reviews of the first
CD, "Four in the Morning."