Debra Cowan was once asked what kind of songs she writes. Her reply? “Bad ones.” Her captivating warm alto carries each folk song she chooses with such emotion that you’ll forget that they were written by others. She performs a cappella and with guitar in the great tradition of folk singers like Joan Baez and Judy Collins, with a clear vocal that calls forth the ghosts of long past but can also offer a more modern urban landscape. In her newest release Fond Desire Farewell, she’s taken contemporary and time-honored public domain songs and put them in a modern setting.
As a young girl she idolized Julie Andrews and in her teens discovered Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span. At the age of 21 she needed escape out of a small Midwestern town so she threw darts at a map and ended up in northern California where she attended college, sang in bars, and eventually found work as a math teacher. She continued her discovery of folk with English singers like Sandy Denny and Scottish singers like Ray Fisher. Debra started performing in California 35 years ago and began touring in 1998, with frequent stops in the US and UK, from folk clubs to festivals like the New Bedford Summerfest and the Dunbar Folk Festival in Scotland. That led her to where she is now, a full-time singer who bridges the old and new with a refreshing stage presence -- she may start with a moving ballad like “Rainbow,” a profile of one woman’s courage, and segue into “Johnny Be Fair,” about a poor lass who can’t marry anyone in town because, well, she’s related to everyone.
Debra’s shared the stage with artists as varied as Richard Shindell and John Renbourne. She’s performed in many prestigious UK folk clubs and for six months in the late 90’s held a residency at Sandy’ Bell’s Bar, Edinburgh's premier folk music pub, following in the footsteps of Scottish musicians such as Dick Gaughan and Aly Bain. She was a 2002 formal showcase artist at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance. This performance led to two appearances on the nationally syndicated live radio show Folkstage, hosted by Rich Warren. Her earlier recordings Dad’s Dinner Pail and Other Songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection and The Long Grey Line brought her praise from both the US and abroad. In 2006 her version of “Walloping Window Blind” was featured in SingOut! Also that year, her rendition of Richard Thompson's "Has He Got a Friend For Me" was included in the Free-Reed Records box set RT-The Life and Times of Richard Thompson.
Debra's Aunt Anita says that math education lost the best teacher it ever had, but listen to her music and you’ll agree that education's loss is music's gain.