The Rowan Brothers

Now & Then

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Given that the Rowan Brothers (i.e., the duo of Chris Rowan and Lorin Rowan) had released only one LP in the U.S. prior to this collection, and that was 32 years earlier, Now & Then, filling two CDs with two and a quarter hours of recordings, most of them previously unreleased, is a major event in the group's star-crossed career. Of course, after their career as a twosome hit the rocks back in the early '70s, they teamed up with older brother Peter Rowan and, under the name the Rowans, released three albums in the middle of the decade. And they have since backed him on such albums as Awake Me in the New World (1993) and Tree on a Hill (1994). But the entity known as the Rowan Brothers, which showed such promise in 1971-1972, has gone relatively undocumented since. Together and separately, however, they have continued to write and perform, and the first disc, the "Now" portion, demonstrates that they have long since matured into talented singer/songwriters playing accomplished folk-rock with bluegrass roots. Their close harmonies sometimes suggest the Everly Brothers, but they are also capable of evoking much earlier sibling teams such as the Monroe Brothers. They are at their best, however, when they are using their influences to create contemporary songs such as "Circle of Friends" and "Pathways." It's hard to believe that a unit that sounds so seasoned has not been heard from on record for so long. Equally interesting, if not as distinguished, is the "Then" disc, which goes back before the first Rowan Brothers album, back as far as their opening gig for admirers the Grateful Dead on July 2, 1971, at one of the final Fillmore West shows. (Dead members Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann guest here and there on the album.) Singing in higher, almost falsetto register, they sound nervous and excited as they preview what would be the leadoff track on their album, "Hickory Day," and several other songs. That's the disc-ending "hidden" material, but it's preceded by 17 tracks that show what a second Rowan Brothers album might have sounded like if their career hadn't been sabotaged by record company infighting. It's far too late to repair the damage, but there's still time to discover an act that deserved to be considered along with Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Eagles in the pantheon of '70s country-rock.

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