john cowan8, 745 Feet: Live at Telluride
John Cowan
E1 Music

When John Cowan first played Telluride, he and his mates were the little-known progressive bluegrass pioneers calling themselves New Grass Revival. After New Grass broke some barriers, made some enduring music and its members moved on to new triumphs, Cowan returned to Telluride, singing and playing bass with a who’s who of roots music. This live album, which came out last year shortly before Cowan’s superb Christmas album (Comfort & Joy), is a typically genre-busting effort by Cowan accompanied by an amazing group of musicians whose numbers include WPA’s Luke Bulla, Bela Fleck, Kenny Greenberg, Barbara Lamb, Darrell Scott, Scott Vestal, Wendy Waldman, Reese Wynans and others. With versatile hands like these on board, and Cowan in peak vocal form, no one should be surprised that there’s a decided hard country rock flavor to the set—on Dennis Linde’s “Singing to the Scarecrow,” the rich mix of acoustic and electric guitars, Wynan’s gospel organ and church piano, and gut-rattling percussion rises from a relative whisper to a glorious, soaring howl, surging ever forward as the song develops, and pushing Cowan to a dramatic, emotionally riveting performance telling the tale of a gifted young girl who leaves her Kentucky fields for singing stardom on larger stages where the scarecrows won’t be her only audience. Bill Lloyd’s power pop-influenced “Only the Night” is an occasion for Cowan to dig into a moody midtempo treatise on the price one pays for giving in to temptations that can be played out under cover of darkness (“you’re never alone, with all the secrets you can drag around/yet you should have known, the cold light of day would bring you down”), with an able instrumental assist from Greenberg’s wailing electric solo to close out the tale. No slouch as a songwriter himself, Cowan brings some of his original tunes to the party, most notably the funky, driving workout, “Wichita Way,” a humorous explanation of the kind of fortitude and tenacity common to the hardy souls inhabiting the title town, complete with a festive, honky tonk spirit and a high-energy ensemble discourse at the end that goes right off the Wow! meter. Barbara Lamb didn’t show up to be window dressing—her and Laura Love’s “Road To Silverton” instrumental provides ample room for her animated fiddle, the banjo, acoustic guitar, and Wynans’ rockin’ piano to pulverize the assembled multitude with an powerhouse assault that morphs from a rock ‘n’ roll jam into a country hoedown. This is by way of saying remarkable things occur on this live album—remarkable and unexpected (wait till you hear the way this group funkifies Jesse Winchester’s “Let’s Make a Baby King”)—and it all starts with Cowan’s assured, gutsy vocals, so rich in personality, so deeply soulful. 8,745 Feet does what a great live album should do—make you wish you had been there, because you know you really missed something not seeing this display with your own eyes and hearing it in the moment. Make a note for next time, folks. —David McGee

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024