Living On The Edge Of Country

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur continues its excellent series of summer music events this Saturday with a special 4th of July weekend fund raising concert featuring Bay area alt-country band The Cowlicks. 

The Cowlicks are currently riding high, having been voted “Best Music to put some Twang in your Thang 2003” by the East Bay Express.  No small achievement for a band that has only been in existence since 2001, and a band whose formation happened partially as a result of the chance meeting of two musicians.

Berkeley resident Todd Novak is a singer-songwriter-guitarist with a long history of touring, as a member of Kevin Salem’s band among others.  One evening, he happened to wander into the Albany Café, which was holding its first open mic night.  Novak signed up to play, and afterwards ended up becoming friends with the open mic’s host, singer and guitarist John Fonseca, who is now also a member of The Cowlicks.  The other members of the band are Mike Anderson (bass, vocals), Michael Hanna (guitar, mandolin, banjo and vocals) and Peter Tucker (drums, percussion), and between them, the five members of the band have played with artists of the caliber of The Waybacks, Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak.  Since the band’s inception, The Cowlicks have been gigging constantly around the Bay Area, and have had their music played on several local radio stations including KPIG.

The music of The Cowlicks owes much of its sound to the influence of artists such as Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, who are widely credited with the fusion of rock and country to create the roots music movement.  Bands such as The Eagles, and more recently Uncle Tupelo and Wilco have developed the sound, creating electric country music with a harder rock edge.  The Cowlicks, however, are equally comfortable with both acoustic and electric settings.  Says Novak, “When we do an in-store concert, it’s almost straight bluegrass.  If we’re out in the clubs it veers into electric stuff, even beyond the Burritos.  But it’s always got a little country edge to it.”

The band’s eponymous debut CD is a superb illustration of both the members’ collective musicianship and Novak and Fonseca’s songwriting.  The twelve tracks range from rockers like “Baby Please” to straight-ahead uptempo country of “It’s a Long Road,” while the slower songs such as “Sweet Rosette” could bring a tear to even the most jaded eye.  The quality of Todd Novak’s songwriting has been compared to that of Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, and justifiably so.

Several reviewers have already tipped the Cowlicks as being the “next big thing,” and the band certainly has the talent to achieve this and more. This weekend’s concert might be one of the last chances you get to hear them without shelling out the big bucks, so what are you waiting for?

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, July 3, 2003

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