Santa Barbara Independent
December 13, 2001
Arts & Entertainment

Made to be Played in Santa Barbara – Our Roundup of CD's from 2001
by Walt Rego

Well, here we are again, spinning platters of the year and looking back at the sonic output from the ocean side oasis we call home. There's a wide range from this year, not to mention those we've already reviewed during the year. So dig deep into your recession-worn pockets and do your American part to support the (local musicians') economy.

Claude Hopper, Four in the Morning
Claude Hopper, alias guitarist-singer-songwriter-graphic artist Dave Cowan, put out a fine CD this year, which lives up to its title and its cover artwork. Four in the Morning sports a fancy cover design, with wood grain, a cowboy Van Gogh cover painting of a guitar in a candlelit room, and a loving, almost genuflecting photo of a tube microphone pre-amp on the back. The woodsy, rocking references continue in the music, starting with the tune "Whisky," with Cowan singing like a cowhide serenader swathed in blankets of warm, dirty guitars. Things get a little more than country on "Mud Flap Girl," replete with pedal steel, banjo, and a C&W lope in a tongue in cheek song about errant desire. Cowan, we mean Hopper, hunkered down in Robinson Eikenberry's studio, to good sonorous effect. Eikenberry seems to have a knack for getting plugged and unplugged instruments to join hands in common cause. The basic Americana rock-folk palette is diverse enough to include the Neil Young influenced "Trial and Error," another banjo-flecked treat," "On Any Other Day," and even a dip into reggae-time, on "Doctor." But it all hangs together nicely, like a purposeful collage.


The Montecito Journal
15-18 March 2001, Issue 88
by Steven Libowitz

Montecito's musical maverick

Right off the bat, it's hard not to like a guy who, when it came time to make his debut album tossed aside his fine, stage-name sounding true moniker, David Cowan, in favor of the rather inglorious Claude Hopper. The main idea was the play on words -- the band's organic, earthy, dirty-acoustic guitar sound recalled the grungy boots Clodhoppers. And Cowan also liked the art world antecedents conjured up by the surname: actor Dennis Hopper, whose off-beat, dark work has been an influence on Cowan, and the American painter Edward Hopper, whose "Nighthawks at the Diner" has been in the inspiration for more than one album cover.

"My music reminds me of the artist," Cowan says. "It's stark and dark and it helps you visualize a scene." But the clincher came when he looked up the term in the dictionary. "I found out it also means 'uncouth rustic,'" Cowan says.

That might seem a bit extreme in describing the music on "Four in the Morning," Claude Hopper's album that will be feted with CD-release parties at SOhO (March 25) and Roy's Jolly Tiger lounge (March 30). But there's no doubt that the alt-country strains running through Wilco, Son Volt and Steve Earle have found their way into Cowan's writing, making "Four in the Morning" a rich, gritty and organic record that gradually etches its way into the listener's consciousness. Acoustic instruments abound, as banjos and dobros and slide guitars punctuate the What is surprising is that although Cowan has been such a staple on the local music scene as both a bandleader and sideman since arriving here in 1989, this is his first recording project as a leader. The delay was due largely to a desire to cobble together enough life experiences to give his songs some reality as well as the need to establish his career – his Cowan Communications is a well-respected local graphic design/communications firm – to produce the income necessary to finance recording. But after watching Kate Bennett and Antara & Delilah among other fellow graduates of Jim Messina's Songwriting Workshops finishing their own recordings, Cowan realized the time was right.

"We all went down that path together, and helped each other out in writing songs" he says. "Kate and Doug (Ingoldsby) blazed the road, and had some success, which was an inspiration." Getting over his serviceable singing voice -- he'd been composing songs for years but usually let others sing lead in most of his previous bands – was the final obstacle. "I decided that these are my songs and it was time for me to sing them myself," he explains. "I'm not a great singer. My voice has a rougher edge, but I sing with the author's voice. It's surely not polished, but it's true to the nature of the song." Even one listen reveals that these are the songs of a true roots-oriented musician seeking expression and a man who gleans all he can from his natural surroundings, which begins with the multi-acre horse farm off Santa Rosa Road in the heart of Montecito where Cowan has rented a guest house for the past seven years. The album title refers to his favorite time for writing, when you're wired after playing a gig. "Sitting out on the deck with a bottle of whiskey and the full, starry sky in a real inspiration to the process," he says. To record the album, Cowan enlisted the help of many well-known Santa Barbara musicians, including drummer Tom Lackner, horn-man Jeff Elliott and steel guitarist Bill Flores and to augment the band line-up of Chris Ulep on keyboards, Chris Cairns on banjo, Alistair Greene on guitar, Chris Thomas on drums and John McInnes on bass. The CD-release parties will be "like a rehearsed version of (The Band's) The Last Waltz," Cowan says. "We invited everybody who appeared on the album to come play, and whoever shows up shows up." And while it may have taken nearly 20 years to make his first record, it won't be nearly as long for the next one, Cowan says. "Now that I've got my feet wet in the studio, I can't wait to get back in there. I have two more albums worth of songs ready to go right now. I'd like to start putting out one a year."

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