It’s ironic in a way that the terrific reissues label Omnivore Records has chosen to focus attention on L.A.‘s sadly unappreciated Continental Drifters by doing so in such a way that doesn’t retrace previously released material – which might be justified considering the fact it’s so hard to find – but rather concentrate nearly entirely on rarities, live tracks, demos and unreleased offerings that have languished in the vaults for years. It’s ideal for collectors of course, many of whom will already own the band’s three major albums and will crave a compilation so richly stocked with collectable gems. However, it would also seem appropriate to offer the unawares a strict series of reissues, given that the Drifters’ original albums are out of print and decidedly hard to find.
The reason for that is fairly simple; not only did the Drifters produce some superior music over the course of a decade — roughly 1991 – 2001 — but they could also be considered a supergroup of sorts, having included in their number several musicians who could boast impressive pop resumes all on their own. Susan Cowsill was once a member of that cheery ‘60s family band that shared the same surname. Vicki Peterson can boast ongoing service with the Bangles. Peter Holsapple of the dB’s and Mark Walton of the Dream Syndicate could each offer previous credentials well beyond reproach. Indeed, if there was ever an outfit that truly embodied the indie ethos, the Continental Drifters were well qualified for that distinction.
Sadly though, the group seemed doomed for obscurity right from the start. Apart from the Bangles, none of the members’ previous associations could offer any mainstream appeal. To the contrary, Cowsill’s connection might have brought a certain amount of derision based on the group’s sugary teeny-bop reputation. To make matters worse, the line-up continued to shift throughout their relatively brief history, leaving bassist Mark Walton to carry the banner as the Drifters’ sole constant from their initial incarnation through to their last. Add to that dilemma the lack of any major label affiliation and it was clear that they were never destined to attain anything more than a minimal cult following.
That’s a shame, because as evidenced by the 30 plus tracks spread across the two CDs that encompass Drifted: In the Beginning & Beyond, it’s obvious in retrospect that the Continental Drifters were a formidable bunch and perfect for their time. While their indie ambitions may have been limited, they were an ideal draw for the college crowd, the same audience that relished bands like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs around that same era. And given the expanse of the playlist, which runs the gamut from the twangy “Mr. Everything”, rootsy rockers like “Karen A” and “Here I Am” and the bluesier bent of “No One Cares” to the odd folk curios that made up the Listen Listen EP, their tribute to Fairport Convention, included in its entirety herein.
All too often we neglect to appreciate things until years after they’re gone. But thanks to the good folks at Omnivore, the Continental Drifters can finally get the appreciation that eluded them before.