Continental Drifters

Drifted: In the Beginning & Beyond

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The Continental Drifters were that rare roots rock band who were as good with a tune as they were with generating atmosphere, and they had plenty of musical flavors at their disposal, both of which can be chalked up to the band's eclectic lineup -- with Vicki Peterson from the Bangles, Peter Holsapple from the dB's, Susan Cowsill of the Cowsills, Gary Eaton from Giant Sand and Steve Wynn's band, and Mark Walton from the Dream Syndicate all on hand (among others), this act was bound to have plenty of great ideas to work with. Most remarkably, with so many folks with distinct musical outlooks on board, the Continental Drifters sounded like a real group, and if some members seemed to play a greater role on certain tracks, when they were on a roll the Continental Drifters sounded like the hippest hootenanny in town, with many disparate elements uniting into a satisfying whole. There's a brilliant retrospective compilation waiting to be assembled from the Continental Drifters' splendid but often overlooked body of work, but Drifted: In the Beginning & Beyond takes a different approach, instead focusing on the group's scrapped first attempt at a debut album (recorded in 1992 and shelved after personnel changes changed the tone of the Drifters; the material was eventually released as Nineteen Ninety-Three) as well as their estimable way with covers (including all the tracks from the 2001 EP Listen, Listen, devoted to songs from the Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson songbooks). Ultimately, the Drifters' 1994 self-titled debut was a more satisfying piece of work than Nineteen Ninety-Three, and the version here, resequenced and fortified with five demos and alternate tracks, doesn't change that, but there is a fine, loosely tight quality to the performances and the songs are often marvelous, especially "The Mississippi," "The Rain Song," "Let It Ride," and "Who We Are, Where We Live." Meanwhile, the 18 covers on the second disc reveal that the Continental Drifters could have been the greatest bar band of all time if that had been their ambition. The Fairport and Thompson covers are inspired, putting an American spin on a very British body of work, and their takes on songs by Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Mike Nesmith, Neil Young, and the Beach Boys are fresh, enthusiastic, and full of heart and soul (and their version of "Dedicated to the One I Love" could make a grown adult tear up a bit). Drifted: In the Beginning & Beyond isn't the comprehensive anthology the Continental Drifters deserve, but it certainly demonstrates how good and how satisfying their work was, and hopefully this will inspire further reissues of their back catalog.

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