Cowan doesn't need any long introductions. As lead singer and bassist of the sorely missed but ever remarkable New Grass Revival, Cowan, along with Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn, stood at the vanguard; propelling bluegrass into its future fused with rock and world rhythms. Having followed his pioneering muse to various levels of acclaim since the NGR's demise in 1990, he returns to his acoustic roots on this new collection.
And a riveting, spirited return it is as Cowan's accomplished band - guitarist Jeff Autry, mandolinist Wayne Benson, fiddlers Luke Bulla and Shad Cobb, Noah Pikelny - banjo, and producer Jay Joyce on his guitars, keyboards and sonic clarity run the Gamut of the leader's inspiration. A high-speed hoedown kicks it off with Carla's Got A New Tattoo. Without missing a beat, the lovelorn yet crunchy Misery and Happiness sports a tearful duet with Patty Griffin. In a SoundScan / American Idol /cookie cutter country free world, Hurting Sure, and Back In Your Arms' would be burning up the charts. When Cowan's singular tenor takes on Robbie Fulk's In Bristol Town — with its melody as old as the hills — and morphs it into his own 6 Red Birds (In A Joshua Tree) it becomes a testament to the band's strengths and subtleties.
Oddly, with its large string and grand piano production, Drown, this collection's acknowledged emotional centerpiece (dealing as it does with Cowan's own experience of childhood molestation) seems to me to separate itself from the disc's previous finely realized highpoints and victories. Maybe that separation is meant to mirror how the victims of this widespread but silent horror feels, but it closes this disc with no sense of closure. Cowan is bold to broach with subject, but perhaps it could have been the start to another disc. Here, as poignant and sincere as Drown is, it sounds to this reviewer to be out of place. Still, this is no reason to shy away from New Tattoo.
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