Debra Cowan
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Debra Cowan

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE | AFM

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE | AFM
Band Folk Acoustic


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This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


"Johnny D's, Somerville MA 6/10/03"

It's always nice to be reminded of the power of a song well sung. Deb Cowan did just that as she hushed a noisy crowd with a boldly unaccompanied version of a song I recognized as being from a MacColl Radio Ballad and then segued expertly to a skillfully accompanied version of a more recent Danny Carnahan song. Competing with a close Red Sox game on the big screen is always tough but Deb kept the audience at attention for the evening with an intriguing mixture of traditional and contemporary songs, often familiar but often in little heard versions. Cowan's reputation as a singer of traditional songs of British and Scottish origins doesn't do her justice. Almost half the songs performed were written in the last 30 years and many were of American origin. Most notable in the last category were songs she has discovered in the Flanders Collection and Hedy West's most American version of "William Taylor." In the former category her take on Ewan McVicar's "All the Tunes in the World" was most touching. Although she often jokes about her lack of skill as a guitarist, all her accompaniments were tasteful and deceptively skillful. - Dave Palmater WUMB 90.1 FM

"Cafe Attracts the Acoustic Underground"

“....Refreshing. It is fun how Cowan involves her audience in her songs. She jokes between them and explains where the music comes from, which is good for newcomers to the folk scene. Her range is also incredible and her acappella interpretations are seamless. I was truly impressed and as a newcomer to the scene, I have been inspired to seek more folk music. It is truly a gift what she gives her audience.” - Miami Herald

"Debra Cowan with Michael De Lalla - Dad’s Dinner Pail and Other Songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection"

The sound of Debra Cowan’s clear, ringing voice begins this record, and it is that voice which carries through the next ten public-domain songs on Dad’s Dinner Pail. Cowan’s voice is proud and true, often backed by an acoustic guitar like a joyous elementary school music teacher sitting out by her favorite lake with a good song book. No posturing, no theatrics - it sounds like Cowan and guitarist Michael De Lalla were merely playing these songs for the enjoyment of it, when someone happened to press the record button. Cowan’s sound is old and untouched. She’s like the aunt who lives way up in Vermont where her neighbors can’t be seen from her front porch.

This record sounds as though it was recorded out in the woods, engineered by elves on an enchanted mixing board. No one’s certain what secrets are held in the forests of Winchester, VA, but it’s clear that these are not songs associated with screeching train brakes and beeping horns. Cowan’s sound is older, more colonial. Many of the lilting melodies and instrumentation bely a profound Celtic influence, as on “The Poor Soldier.” Dad’s Dinner Pail isn’t exactly a trip in a time capsule; it’s like a pleasing dream about another world. Cowan is our happy-faced and perky guide throughout the eleven tracks. If you find yourself walking through the woods of Vermont some day and hear Cowan’s clear melodies echoing off the trees and rocks, follow the sound, because even if you’re still lost when you find her, at least you’ll have some nice mood music. (Falling Mountain Music)


-C.D. Di Guardia
- Performer Magazine

"Saltaire, Yorkshire, UK April 2005"

There's nothing like discovering a well-kept secret. I remember the first time I heard Debra sing. A seasoned club and concert goer, with many years of music industry and radio experience, I seldom used the word thrilled. But the moment Debra began to sing - an acapella folk song, as is her wont for opening numbers - it was the only word that came to mind.
Pure, precise, yet still emotional and utterly captivating, her voice was accompanied by only one other sound in the room: the noise of forty-odd jaws dropping. From serious traditional to contemporary bawdy, always with informed and informative introduction, song after song flowed in a rich quilt of melody. The room, it has to be said, contained many professional singers from this side of the Atlantic who were amazed that this was the first time we had heard Debra. We had been told she was good - which only serves as proof that the English are masters of understatement.
If you have never heard her sing, then do next time she is anywhere near you (you can, and will, thank me afterwards); if she's not near, then get her album. If you have heard her, then now is the time to tell me I have understated her wondrous talent. - Nigel Schofield, Free-Reed Records

"Go back in time-Debra Cowan preserves some pieces of musical history"

Music is one of the strongest preservers of history we have.
Long before the ability to record songs existed, all over the world folks exchanged ideas, feelings and information through music, thus passing along the concerns of cultures and generations. And one person simply singing to another was often all it took.
Debra Cowan, a singer based in Shrewsbury, made it a mission to dig up and represent an important New England work — the Flanders Ballad and Song Collection — on her latest CD. She spent hours listening and culling selections for Dad’s Dinner Paul and Other Songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection, her second recording, and an ode to a time when music really was tradition.
“What they did was, they sang songs they’d learned from their parents and grandparents,” says Cowan. “These people were ordinary people. They were farmers, tradesmen, lumberjacks, homemakers ....”
Flanders, the wife of Sen. Ralph Flanders from Vermont, was a poet and felt strongly about preserving tunes of yore. In 1930, Flanders started to seek out these generational gems by traveling throughout New England collecting, recording and transcribing thousands of folk songs by people who would sing them to her (some were more reluctant than others). “She’d put ads in newspapers,” says Cowan, “or put notices up in bulletin boards. It was a chain reaction.”
In 1941, Flanders donated her huge collection of recordings, transcriptions, photos and articles to Middlebury College for safekeeping, while at the same time making it available to students and scholars. “I’ve always been interested in traditional songs,” says Cowan, “especially old ballads. I was approached by a woman named Nancy Jean Ballard, and she told me that she was Helen Hartness Flanders’s granddaughter and had heard me sing, and was interested in having me investigate the Flanders collection.”
The seed for the idea was planted, but it wasn’t until what Cowan calls a “‘Twilight Zone’ moment” that she started to pursue it intently. “About a month after I spoke to Nancy Jean,” says Cowan, “I was in a used book store in Boston. I found a book in the music section called The World’s Earliest Music and opened the cover and there was an inscription that said ‘With cordial greetings every time you open this book, Helen Hartness Flanders.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to record this.’”
Ballard invited Cowan to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to start listening to the many tapes. She spent the next two to three years bouncing between the Library of Congress and Middlebury College to decide on the final 11 for her recording.
The beauty lies in the music’s history, and reading about each title can breathe more of this beauty into each song. And Cowan’s gorgeous delivery and fluent acoustic guitar-playing lends itself perfectly to the material.
“I picked these because they had nice-sounding melodies and good stories,” says Cowan. “I also wanted a variety of songs, so there are some old ballads that came from England and Scotland from immigrants, and there are some songs that are unique to New England.”
“Schooner EA Horton,” for instance, came out of Gloucester — it’s a song that tells of how the schooner was captured by Canadian authorities in Nova Scotia because it was fishing inside the three-mile limit. “Young Charlotte” find its roots in Westboro. The title track came from the Irish music hall days of the late 19th century, and was composed by Edward Harrigan.
“I love history,” says Cowan. “One of the things about the old ballads is they give you a sense of what life was like a long time ago, but on the other hand, they also describe conflicts and relationships that are prevalent today.

Charlene Arsenault may be reached at - Worcester Magazine-USA


Midwinter-Compilation 2006
RT-The Life and Times of Richard Thompson-Compilation 2006
Dad's Dinner Pail-2005
The Long Grey Line-2001
Banks of Green Willow-2000
A Dram For the Singer-1997
'Til the Porter is Drained (w/Tar'd & Feather'd)-1993
Tar'd & Feather'd-1989
The EZ Pickin' Band-1983


Feeling a bit camera shy


Debra's 2005 release of her recording "Dad's Dinner Pail and Other Songs From the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection", on the Falling Mountain Music recording label has brought her praise in both the USA and United Kingdom. In their Spring 2006 issue, Sing Out! Magazine published Debra's version of the "Walloping Window Blind", a song from "Dad's Dinner Pail". Also in 2006, Debra was included in the Free-Reed Records box set, "RT-The Life and Times of Richard Thompson" with her version of Thompson's "Has He Got a Friend For Me". She was selected as a 2002 Formal Showcase Artist at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) delighting an audience of industry professionals. Her many live radio appearances include the live concert series' "Folkstage" on WFMT in Chicago and WVBR's "Bound For Glory" in Ithaca, NY.. In 2001, she released her first solo CD, “The Long Grey Line” which enjoyed world-wide airplay on folk music radio and has been praised throughout the folk music community. Also that year, she was selected as a Showcase Artist in the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. She has appeared at numerous concert venues and on radio programs throughout the United States and the United Kingdom where her clear vocals and beautifully rendered songs have been described as “stunning”. Her festival appearances include the Greater New Bedford Summerfest (MA), Mystic Seaport Sea Music Festival (CT), Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Lancaster Maritime Festival (UK), Edinburgh Festival (UK) and the Chico World Music Festival (CA).