Susan Cowsill’s made music for more than four decades, first as a child in the ’60s family pop band The Cowsills, and the last seven years solo.
It’s in this last capacity that her star’s shone brightest. She’s always had a wonderfully earthy, powerful voice, but with her latest album, “Lighthouse,” she’s further showcased a lyrical soul of great depth and feeling.
Its release marked the end of what she described as the most tumultuous period in her life — which is saying something, since she grew up an emancipated teen fending for herself in L.A. Cowsill had just released her solo debut, “Just Believe It,” in January 2005, when seven months later, Hurricane Katrina turned her life upside down.
“We were post-traumatic for a couple years making the decisions to buy cat food while the cat’s screaming at you that it’s hungry, yet you’re still not sure if you need to go to the store,” she said.
When she’d recovered enough, she recorded “Lighthouse,” capturing the flood of feelings from that period. But while there’s a river of sorrow running through the album, it’s viewed from above, like cliffs of resilience shadowing those riverbanks with hope and acceptance. It’s a moving album with rich orchestral grace and sophistication. Although the subject matter would seem downbeat, it manages somehow to still be exultant.
“Well, that’s me. I am by all rights mournful, but I do my damnedest to be upbeat,” Cowsill said. “Katrina was a dichotomous experience … so incredibly sad and devastating for so many people, but out of that came so much love and generosity and survivalness over hell and damnation to make everything work and to be grateful for what was left. We’re talking about N’awlins, and no one will deprive us of our joy, mirth, merriment and celebratory natures.”
You might say living in New Orleans is suited to her nature. As a child star, she endured many of the difficulties as other family acts of the era.
“My dad was an unhappy camper who drank a lot and was very controlling and abusive, so that was the drag part of our situation, and for whatever reason, evidently not untypical,” she said. “I’ve spent more time thinking about taking care of myself to not let that stick with me and shape my life. I have made my way onto a fairly healthy outcome. Let’s just say there were six of us in this band, and a lot of us didn’t fare as well as others.”
Although she lived a wild life as a youth, Cowsill found herself by the time she was 30, when she learned guitar and how to write. She also had a child and settled down.
Although it hasn’t been happily ever after, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“This is part of the fabric of who I am in my life, and so much was learned while lost,” she said.