While Cowan could often be found touring with other acts, most notably Sam Bush, he would later form his own group, The John Cowan Band, and would continue to tour extensively, attracting a small, but very devoted, following. The John Cowan Band repertoire often featured covers of New Grass Revival material and other pop, rock, and country acts, but the majority of the set-lists were comprised of original songs composed by Cowan and the members of the band as well as covers of songs by many composers not familiar to most listeners. The style of music performed by the group has been described as or termed "new grass," "Americana," or simply "eclectic," but none of these terms quite cover the entirety of Cowan's or the band's repertoire. Indeed, the repertoire might often include tunes that were well outside the bluegrass and Americana canons: Jackson Brown's "These Days" and Yes' "Long Distance Runaround" were, for a short time, both on the set-lists. Similarly, many of Nashville's and modern country music's finest young players have found at least a temporary home and laboratory with Cowan's band and each has influenced the chemistry of the unit while they were a member.
The John Cowan Band lineup has included in turn a trap-kit player, a hand-drummer, a MIDI banjo-ist, traditional banjo-ists, fiddlers, a jazz guitarist, flat-pickers, mandolinists, and other acoustic instruments often found in bluegrass line-ups. If there was any one constant element in the band, it was the phenomenal harmony vocals that each member contributed. Additionally, Cowan occasionally fronts a traditional R&B group, Grooveyard, comprised of Nashville session players, including keyboardist Reese Wynans and guitarist Pat Buchanan among others. As a stage-bassist, Cowan is accurate, capable of playing in the multi-meters found in bluegrass and Irish music, and has the uncanny ablility to sing syncopated vocal parts and play the downbeat on the bass without error. His style is powerful and drives the band, despite the instrumentation. As a vocalist, his range is strongly in the tenor but stretches well above.
His voice is powerful and strongly reminiscent of his idol, Mavis Staples. Cowan's ability to sing most any song with conviction and emotion separates him from other capable singers (one terrific example is his version of "The Battle Cry of Freedom" found here on last.fm). His ability to sing harmony is often requested and has resulted in his numerous appearances on dozens of recordings that frequently make the top 100 in the country genre. His songwriting often deals with rural topics, childhood memories, or relationships (both positive and negative aspects), and, while most pieces are sweet or bittersweet, other examples of his songwriting discuss much more difficult topics like immortality ("6 Redbirds in a Joshua Tree" -- written with Darrell Scott) or, perhaps one of the most difficult topics to broach, sexual abuse, as he did in "Drown" (also written with Darrell Scott).
"Drown" is probably one of the most dark, difficult, and explicit treatments of the topic ever recorded and unusual for its candor among the songs in Cowan's catalogue. John has released several albums since the breakup of the New Grass Revival: Soul'd Out (1990, Sugar Hill), From Out of the Blue: The Sky Kings (2000, Rhino/Warner Archives), John Cowan (2000, Sugar Hill), Always Take Me Back (2002, Sugar Hill), 8,745 ft.: Recorded Live at Telluride (2005, Cowvox Records), New Tattoo (2006, Pinecastle), Lost Weekend (a limited edition recording of Grooveyard by Bose), and Come, Messiah, Come (Light). Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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