WHAT IF THIS IS ALL THERE IS
MAKING A SCENE
When you listen to an album that evokes Patty Griffin, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey all rolled into one, you know you’ve picked high-cotton. What If This Is All There Is, is one of life’s grandest questions. It’s reflective and forward focused and allows for personal growth. If this is all there is for RJ Cowdery, she’s in a good place. I’m glad she made it, but I know this is only the beginning.
RJ Cowdery writes from a place of having lived. Her songs are straight and to the point in a kind and knowing way. With the passing of time the world gets smaller and the big things fade out of focus. It’s easier to see the little things. Things that matter most. It’s from this place that these songs come. With a bullshit radar finely focused, these are the story of RJ Cowdery. They are your story too. Lean in hard. It’s okay, RJ’s been there and she knows the way out.
From the first few notes you know this is a special album, but it’s RJ’s voice that seals it. The opening song, “Somewhere A Place”, hits you immediately. A reflective song about love denied wrapped in velvet vocals. It’s a love song, a what if song with a tom-tom pater, simple key strokes, and gentle guitar. The title song leaves no doubt about what RJ Cowdery is pondering. “What If This Is All There Is”
“I know this might sound crazy
But for me it rings so true
One song at a time is doing me just fine
And who knows I might just pull through”
RJ only recently decided to focus on her music full-time, but she has made short order of it. She has been winning songwriter awards at several prestigious contests such as Mountain Stage and Kerrville. This album has its debut at #49 on Roots Music Report, and is ranking in DJ playlists, (The complete list of accolades, as well as lyrics, can be found at rjCowdery.com). These are beautiful folk songs, that sometimes rock out as it does with “Broken Wheel”. These are country songs with lyrics that spin a beautiful story as they do in “Secrets Of My Dreams”, “Don’t Give Up”, or “Is There Time”. “Shotgun Rider” is the most instrumentally interesting song with banjo, dobro, flat-picking guitar, and mandolin. “Girl In The War” is simply stunning with its harmony vocals, mandolin, and upright-bass. “Get Out Of Here” is going to be every-woman’s theme-song.
“I’m a little bit firecracker, little Pillsbury Dough
I find comfort in the silence that often leaves me sad and alone
I am wiser cuz’ I’m older and I’ve got the scars to prove it
If you look beyond the surface you just might find I’m worth it”
“Lost and Found” evokes Rodney Crowell. The fiddle plays prominently as the journey of the album is complete. Like two old birds, the album has minced words scratched around and has found what was there all along.
All the songs on What If This Is All There Is are written by RJ Cowdery with the exception of “Girl in the War” by Josh Ritter. Produced by Amy Speace, RJ provides vocals and acoustic guitar. Thomm Jutz recorded, engineered, and mixed the album and provided acoustic and electric guitars. Mark Fain plays upright bass, Lynn Williams provides drums and percussion, Jen Gunderman plays keys, and Justin Moses plays banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. Harmony vocals are provided by Ingrid Graudins, Melissa Greener, and Amy Speace.
Taking stock and finding yourself in the middle of life you do ask “What If This Is All There is”? You figure out what works and what doesn’t. You focus on the joy and on the real. For the album, as in life, everything here belongs.
COUNTRY STANDARD TIME
In the vein of "it's never too late," RJ Cowdery is a Columbus, Ohio-based three decades plus songwriter who only decided to record and perform a few years ago. She has plenty of hard-earned wisdom to impart. Already she's garnered songwriting awards at several prestigious festivals like Kerrville and Falcon Ridge. Her nine songs and one Josh Ritter cover on "What If This Is All There Is" speak to change and loss in an autobiographical way that becomes rather universal. Many of us deal with aging, losing loved ones and contemplating what's left.
Cowdery enlists fellow songsmith Amy Speace as producer while gifted guitarist Thomm Jutz not only plays brilliantly as usual, but handles the recording, engineering and mixing. One of Nashville's in-demand keyboardists, Jen Gunderman, and versatile string man Justin Moses also frame Cowdery's songs with support from three female harmonizers.
"Somewhere A Place" is a mixed remembrance of a past husband that she sees reflected in their son's features and actions. The title track is one that retirees, or those who have recently left the proverbial rat race, can relate to. Rather than worry about tomorrow, take the present as she does - "One song at a time is doing me just fine/And who knows I might just pull through." "Broken Wheel" urges one to cling to hope even when feeling on the brink while "Don't Give Up" is a plaintive plea to restore a relationship gone bad.
That last glimmer of hope in a relationship turns to revengeful anger in "Shotgun Rider." "Get Out of Here" contemplates mortality with lonely emotions that recall more innocent times using lines like - "Now my shiny belly Buddha on the dashboard's got a frown." She reprises the theme of the title track in the sweet closer, "Lost and Found" with these being the last lines on the recording - "Here we are in a circle chasing our tails/I think we've finally earned some time to sit back and exhale."
Yes, most of us can relate well to Cowdery's songs. She expresses common thoughts better than most of us can and therein, even amidst the sadness in some of the lyrics, we find comfort.
Crowd funding really came through this time. Like a novelist blossoming in obscurity for years, Cowdery stewed in her own juices for decades before making the decision to go for it, emerging fully formed in voice and pen with the force of a runaway train. A totally stellar singer/songwriter set that never fails to hit all the right notes, she's unique enough that while apt comparisons might be apt, they don't do her justice. Just don't miss it.
THE ROCKING MAGPIE
Robustly Delicate Songs From the Country/Folk Axis.
It appears RJ Cowdery from Columbia, Iowa is one of those ‘wandering troubadour’ musicians who has a list of Festival Appearances, Songwriting Competitions, support slots and house concerts as long as your arm; and then some; yet is still flying under the musical radar; which greatly saddens me.
She is far from alone in that regard; but when I see and hear some of the ‘over night’ wonders in our little world, I truly despair at the state of the music industry.
But; and this may be naive on my behalf; but I firmly believe talent will always win through …… just sometimes you have to wait a bit longer than you deserve.
Why do I feel this way? Listen to the first song here; Somewhere A Place and you will hear a woman who can weave golden textures through a sad old love song; and sing it with a voice that is both ‘world weary’ and hopeful at the same time.
RJ treads the path that is part Americana, part Roots, Part Folk and a whole lotta Country with ease on her insightful and perceptive songs, taking us on some kind of personal journey that will capture both your heart and imagination when she powers through Broken Wheel then drags things down to raw basics with Is There Time and Secrets of My Dreams.
We’ve all seen a lot of singer-songwriters like RJ Cowdrey in our time; but very few have a canon of songs this sharply observed and coupled to imaginative melodies that will make you feel like you’ve known them all of your life. RJ Cowdrey has this quality in Shotgun Rider and the heartfelt title track What If This Is All There Is? I’ve racked my brains, as I was sure I’d heard both songs before ….. but no sirree, these and everything else here are brand new and shiny just for this album.
Then, there are two very, very special songs here that definitely deserve a worldwide audience; her interpretation of Josh Ritter’s Girl in the War is absolutely heartbreaking, and I hope Josh finds it half as beautiful as I have done.
The other is Lost & Found, and finds itself the RMHQ Favourite Song here, with the opening verse sending a shiver down my spine;
“Here we are, falling stars looking for a place to land
Not really knowing where we’re going holding on best that we can
Like two old birds, mincing words scratching round’ the back yard
Talking life and sacrifice we’re only as strong as our parts
Oh what a journey such a hurry
Let’s slow this whole thing down
Take a back road you and me we’re on our own.”
It’s been difficult to try and pin down where RJ Cowdrey fits in; as she writes a song that could easily be found on a Joan Baez or even Emmylou Harris album; as she can conjure up images in the mould of Lucinda or perhaps even Ashley McBryde but also Amy Space too, who coincidentally (?) produced the record ; but I also imagine she has spent a lot of time listening to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson too…… ultimately dissecting each until she has found her very own style; and one she should be rightly proud of.
Cowdery confirms her new CD is “a conversation of change and loss and, ultimately, how I am dealing with life here in the middle.” She notes that her goal was to make a record that was “simple and real.” It appears she has succeeded. Overall, this album is an audio offering of honest, simple yet sometimes stunning songs. Her playing is sharply effective and her vocals are soft and a pleasure to listen to as well. So be sure to check out RJ Cowdery’s What If This Is All There Is before you “Get Out Of Here.
THE MORTON REPORT
Folksinger R.J. Cowdery has reportedly been writing songs for three decades but has only recently begun focusing on music full time. In one sense, it’s a shame she didn’t start spending time in the studio sooner than she did, but we can probably credit the wisdom in some of these songs to the fact that she took time to live ’em before she wrote ’em. Her strong vocals on this album—her fourth since 2008, when she issued her debut CD—set an intimate mood. That’s appropriate, given the lyrics, which, she says, “are conversations about change and loss, and ultimately, how I’m dealing with life in the middle.” The emotive, understated backup includes guitar, bass, keyboards, dobro, fiddle, banjo, and percussion. A cover of Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” shares the program with nine originals.
THE ALTERNATE ROOT
The question of What If This is All There Is that titles the recent release from Columbus, Ohio native, RJ Cowdery, allows her to answer wearing different skins. She shares “Secrets of My Dreams” in a hushed voice that greets the morning with gratitude while the “Girl in the War” threatens with a prayer as What If This Is All There Is offers a welcome home (“Somewhere a Place”), makes a plea for one last chance (“Don’t Give Up”), and sifts through scattered guitar notes in “Lost and Found” to find a place to land. What If This Is All There Is watches RJ Cowdery stand in the middle of too many options in the title track, balancing the fear of limitations with a reachable goal of ‘one song at a time’.
Wry humor is the sugar-coating for the words of RJ Cowdery as she tackles tough calls (“Get Out of Here”) and even tougher love (“Broken Wheel”). Of What If This Is All There Is RJ Cowdery feels that ‘the songs on the recording are conversations about change and loss, and ultimately, how I’m dealing with life in the middle. I’ve always tried to write about what I know and tell my story in a way that is your story too. Personal trials, aging, losing loved ones, and contemplating life. I hope these songs make you want to lean in and listen and keep in mind that we all have more in common than we think we do’. A lonesome trail finds a ragged rhythm to match its road as RJ Cowdery faces down bad love with vengeance for “Shotgun Rider”.
IN THIS LIGHT
IN THIS LIGHT
Blue Rock Artists
Magnificent melodies and heartfelt emotions shimmer IN THIS LIGHT.
Ohio native Rj Cowdery openly admits that she’s something of a late bloomer. Holding down a real job for years and years, Rj released her debut album in the middle of the closing decade of last century and then settled back into the ‘everyday’ of every succeeding day. While music continued to pervade Rj’s leisure hours, she finally cast her songs to their fate in the public domain a handful of years ago. Drawing on decades of knowledge, like a magnet Cowdery’s words and melodies attracted accolades and songwriting awards from Mountain Stage NewSong Contest (2007), the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Song Contest (2008) and Wildflower! Music & Arts Festival Singer/Songwriter Contest (2011). Her third recording, IN THIS LIGHT, was recorded in ‘paradise’ aka Wimberley’s Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio and produced by facility co-owner Billy Crockett. Chris Maresh (acoustic, electric bass) and Rick Richards (percussion) furnish the backbone on most of the album’s eleven selections, and Rj’s voice and acoustic guitar are also supported by hallmark contributions from Crockett (piano, pump organ, mandolin), Cindy Cashdollar (weisenborn, dobro, lap steel, national steel, resonator guitar), Dirjie Smith (cello), Pierce Pettis (harmonica) and Jonathan Byrd (vocals).
Magnificently mellifluous from the outset, Cowdery opens with the album title song. Having thrown ‘some wishes’ into a well, the narrator relates how she subsequently: ‘ran like hell’ because: ‘I think I’m better off if I don’t know.” There’s a possible autobiographical undercurrent at play here, as the narrator subsequently relates: ‘Throw down my guard step into the light.’ The rest, I guess, is history as related in the opening paragraph of this review. Mankind’s daily struggles are woven into the fabric of Other Side Of Love and I’ll Keep Trying. Blind Side focuses on a cheating husband, while Snow is a seasonal road song set in a cold motel room and closes with the cinematic and succinct: ‘Damn this winter get me to June.” The narrator in Far Away paints a portrait of a hardscrabble life: ‘All this living is surely killing me.’ Assisted vocally by Byrd, in the five-minute plus Not Going Home, the narrator having been shot and ‘lying in a pool of blood’ reflects on someday spinning off this mortal coil: ‘ I don’t see the light so I’m not going home.’ The latter title segues into a short reprise of the well-know gospel song I’ll Fly Away. This is an eminently listenable collection that bears repeated hearing, and closes with the sonically bare caution Whiskey. Cowdery’s voice and guitar are accompanied solely by Crockett’s pump organ, the lyric being an ‘open letter’ to that warm yet seductive and addictive spirit in the bottle.
-Arthur Wood – Maverick Magazine
“Fantastic bunch of songs! I was torn between wanting to hear each successive song and savoring the one I’d just heard. This is just wonderful.” -Charlie Silvestri, Homegrown Radio NJ
“I put on Rj Cowdery and I AM IN LOVE!!! This is by far one of the best CD’s I’ve heard on 2011!!” -Sam Tallerico, Cold Spring Radio
“Cowdery’s a natural – with a strong, warm voice that carries you into the world she sings about. She also has a gift for creating songs that that can bring that proverbial ray of sunshine to a gloomy day. And that talent of hers shines again with eleven more originals on her latest CD- “In this Light”.-Butch Kara, Kaleidoscope
“In This Light,” the tender and brave new album by RJ Cowdery, leaves the door to her soul open a crack and invites you to come in and see the world from her perspective. Backed by a talented but respectful band of celebrated Americana/roots players, every song draws you deeper into her world, where lyrics are gold and her smooth alto reigns supreme. It is inevitable that every one of these eleven tracks will soon be someone’s new favorite song.”
– Rebecca Loebe, Award winning singer- songwriter, Finalist on NBC’s “The Voice”
THE NUGGET NEWSPAPER
RJ Cowdery impressed judges and crowd alike in winning the Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest.The winner of the 2012 Sisters Folk Festival Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest was singer/songwriter RJ Cowdery of Columbus, Ohio.
"I'm so happy to have won this," said Cowdery."I've been hearing about the Sisters Folk Festival and the songwriting contest for a few years, I've done some other contests in Texas and Colorado and always wanted to throw my hat into the ring and finally got a chance to do that."
Cowdery grew up in Belpre, Ohio, a small town along the West Virginia border. Absorbing the gospel and country music her family sang, Cowdery gained the inspiration to want to sing and play guitar. Even damaged fingers on her left hand from a mowing accident couldn't slow Cowdery down.
"I decided losing part of my finger wouldn't stop me from playing guitar," Cowdery said. "I just make my own finger out of tape, and it hasn't held me back at all. I have my own style of playing now and I couldn't imagine playing any other way."
With a tender voice and heartfelt lyrics, Cowdery has taken home major songwriting awards at such illustrious places as Kerrville New Folk, Mountain Stage Newsong, Wildflower Arts and Music, while getting the runner-up award at Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, before netting her impressive win here in Sisters.
"This just keeps me going, I can't wait to come back," Cowdery said. "It's going to be something to really look forward to. I tour in Texas quite a bit, northern Colorado and tour the Midwest and the Northeast. I've never played in this part of the country before, so this will really open some doors for this area."
Opening doors is what the contest is all about, according to Sisters Folk Festival Board Chairman Jim Cornelius.
"Songwriting contests are a way for emerging artists in this kind of genre of music to gain name recognition and credibility," he said. "There is no getting a label deal or major label support in this business, it's all how you get your name out there on your own. This is one of the ways people do that, so they're looking for songwriting contests to enter. This contest has a good reputation. It's had winners that have gone on to have solid careers in folk music. Dave Carter was the first, but there have been a bunch who have launched a career or have gotten a career boost from winning this contest."
Carter was an emerging folk singer-songwriter whose songs were noted for their poetic imagery, spirituality and storytelling. He died from a massive heart attack at the age of 49, in 2002.