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Vinyl Cave -- IIxII by The Cowsills
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The history of music is dotted with child or teenage performers, and the rock era has been no different, right up to today's Disney-launched stars The Jonas Brothers. In the '60s, one of the most talented young groups was family band The Cowsills.

After brothers Bill and Bob learned guitar, younger siblings Paul and Barry were subsequently recruited to form a group. After a few singles, the foursome signed to MGM, who encouraged them to also add their mother Barbara to the band. Their next single, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," became a monster hit and launched them to stardom. Even younger siblings Susan and John would join the band shortly thereafter.

If it all sounds sort of like The Partridge Family, that's because the television show was very loosely based on the story of The Cowsills; the group was even offered the starring roles, but reportedly backed out because their mother would have been replaced by Shirley Jones. Ironically, while The Partridge Family became TV stars and sold a zillion records in the early '70s, The Cowsills record sales faded as they continued the process of growing up in public.

But that's jumping ahead just a bit. Following their smash hit version of "Hair" in early 1969, the group released the awkwardly titled "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine" that summer. Yes, it's about the Bible, despite the chants of "6-6-6" in the chorus which could fool the casual listener into thinking they're hearing something Satanic. It was an adventurous choice for a single, musically another step forward -- and didn't come close to matching the success of "Hair." It was a good advance warning for their fourth studio album, IIxII, which emerged late in the year and showed a band caught between adolescence and adulthood.

The title track and cover art also pursued a broadly biblical theme, updating the concept of Noah's Ark into escaping the earth by space travel. Overall, the album largely abandons the bright, very produced sunshine pop of their first three albums for a more organic, acoustic-leaning sound, to great effect on ballads like "Night Shift," "Don't Look Back" and the autobiographical "Father."

Even on their early records, the group wrote quite a bit of their material, and largely took over production duties by their second LP. IIxII was no different, with brother Bob in the producer's chair for all but one track, a startling power pop rearrangement of the country standard "Silver Threads and Golden Needles." In some ways, that single showed the direction for their final LP, which moved the group in more of a country rock direction. But unfortunately much of the listening public had already moved on to The Partridge Family. (MGM 1969; unavailable since it's original release)

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