Psycho Sisters: Up on the Chair, Beatrice

PsychoSisters_UpOnTheChairBeatriceAn unexpected communiqué letter from the mid-90s

Susan Cowsill (of the Cowsills) and Vicki Peterson (of the Bangles) wrote and toured together in the mid-90s as the Psycho Sisters, but when Peterson returned to performing with the Bangles, and Cowsill launched a solo career, they left behind only a rare single of “Timberline” (b/w “This Painting”), concert memories, and performances backing Steve Wynn and Giant Sand. Two decades later the pair found coincidental breaks in their schedules and wound the clock back to 1992 with this debut album composed of seven originals written during the years of their initial collaboration, a trio of cover, and a CD booklet illustrated with period photos.

Not surprisingly, the album plays like a long-delayed communiqué from the ’90s. Peterson’s superb co-write with her future brother-in-law, Bob Cowsill, “Never, Never Boys,” could have been one of the better pages of the Bangles’ songbook. Peterson’s electric guitar and the vocal arrangement reach back to the Bangles’ folkier, pre-stardom sound, and the lost-boys theme snapshots a time before Peterson and Cowsill’s marriages. The opening cover “Heather Says” reaches back even further to the Cowsills’ last album, 1971’s On My Side. Written by Waddy Wachtel, the song’s story of a grade-school bully lends the adult voices a tone of youthful confusion, and the Cowsills’ original harmonies provide baroque inspiration for this duet.

Cowsill and Peterson were in their mid-30s at the start of the Psycho Sisters, and their songwriting highlights a period of transition from carefree youth to more responsible adulthood. Their thirst for boys turned into a yearning for men, and unsettled relationships turned from fun to unfulfilling. The songs are stocked with problematic couplings, but their breakups are less about wounds than growth. A take on Peter Holsapple’s “What Do You Want From Me” kisses off and moves on, and Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy,” whose cheery tone (and oh-so-dreamy singer) probably trumped its snarky lyrics in the ears of a teenage Susan Cowsill, gains new meaning when sung by women.

One’s twenties often reveal the certainty of your teenage years to have been laughable. You realize that you only thought you knew everything in your teens, but now, in your twenties, you really do. Your thirties repeat the cycle, but with a hint of doubt that hasn’t yet blossomed into full introspection; if your twenties reveal the truth of your teens, what do your thirties reveal of your twenties? These songs reflect the growing shades of grey brought about by age, and sung by their authors in their fifties, these songs gain both a nostalgic tint and extra decades of emotional patina. It’s a rarity to hear artists reflect upon their earlier reflections, and a treat to find Cowsill and Peterson still singing in artistic harmony. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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