Singer-songwriter guitar player Rj Cowdery is motivated by the best things in life: making people think, laugh, cry and feel. Fans tell her it’s uncanny the way her songs seem to take a peek directly into their lives. Much like the Midwestern Ohio landscape she calls home, her songs are stories of middle ground, and her tales are expressions of being in the midst of life. Hers are songs of acceptance.
The other half of the equation, along with her lyricism, is that musically Rj has a unique and characteristic style. She can play hard with a driving right hand or finger pick with the ability to make it sound like there’s more going on than just one guitar. An injury to a finger on her left hand as a child resulted in Cowdery learning her own playing style out of necessity. The act that compelled her to learn to play differently gave rise to this distinctive technique that’s earned Cowdery her rightful place at the folk table.
Her music is driving and lyric-rich, and her unique approach has been validated by her winning the Kerrville New Folk contest in 2008 and the Mountain Stage New Song Contest in 2007, and winning at Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist and Sisters Folk Festivals too. She’s played at venues like 30A, The Ark, The Bluebird, and Vancouver Island Folk Festival. Cowdery has worked with Don Dixon, Billy Crockett, and Amy Speace, and been support for Jesse Winchester and John Gorka, among others. She’s also received glowing press from No Depression, Country Standard Time, Making a Scene, The Alternate Root, WMOT, The Morton Report, Americana Highways, and many others.
Her 2019 release, What If This Is All There Is (GoosePie Music) was produced by Amy Speace and was recorded and mixed by Thomm Jutz at TJTunes in Mt Juliet, TN. The album is Rj Cowdery on vocals and acoustic guitar; Mark Fain on bass, Lynn Williams on drums/percussion; Thomm Jutz on electric and acoustic guitars; Jen Gunderman on keys, Justin Moses on banjo, dobro, and mandolin, with Ingrid Graudins, Melissa Greener, Amy Speace, and Rj on backing vocals. The title track is a profound call for acceptance, as Rj questions whether her life is already as good as it’s going to get, clearly touching something we can all relate to. “Is There Time” is a song calling us to be more present. “Secret of My Dreams” is perhaps the centerpiece of the album, with its outline of being in the middle of life and the losses and changes that buoy us. “Broken Wheel” breaks unique ground in being, in Cowdery’s words, a “folk menopausal rap.”
Something Fine came out in 2015 on GoosePie Music and was produced, recorded and engineered by Matt Nakoa and Neale Eckstein at Fox Run Studios in Sudbury, MA. In this all covers album, Rj honors songs written by friends and heroes and makes them her own. Rj Cowdery on vocals, acoustic guitar, and backing vocals; Matt Nakoa on keys, guitar and backing vocals; Michael Reilly on drums/percussion; Walter Skorupski on bass; Adam Michael Rothberg on electric guitar, Silvertone, dobro, banjotar, and mandolin; Barbara Kessler on backing vocals with Jake Bush on accordion. “When I Find All of You,” is an adept string-plucked genuine healing love song. “That’s What Makes You Strong,” identifies interplay between strength and weakness with lilting harmonies and soothing keys. The recording features songs written by Nanci Griffith, Jackson Browne, Tim Grimm, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Joe Crookston, Johann Wagner, Jesse Winchester, and Kate Wolf.
Her 2011 album was In This Light (Blue Rock Artists), was produced by Billy Crockett recorded and engineered by Billy Crockett and Keith Gary at Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, TX. This album featured Jonathan Byrd on backing vocals, and Rj Cowdery on vocals and acoustic guitar, Billy Crockett on mandolin, pump organ, and piano; Chris Maresh on bass; Rick Richards on drums/percussion; Cindy Cashdollar on Weissenborn, dobro, lap steel, Baritone National Tr–Cone, and resonator; Dirjie Childs on cello; Pierce Pettis on harmonica. “In This Light,” tiptoes around, and then boldly strides into the topic of wishing and gathering the strength to step out into the light. “Snow,” is a story of traveling in the wintertime and searching for answers and warmth. “Far Away” really showcases Cowdery’s fingerpicking style in a song of struggle.
Cowdery’s debut abum was 2008’s One More Door, out on GoosePie Music, and produced by Todd Burge, was recorded remotely in a house in Parkersburg, W VA. One More Door features Don Dixon (REM, Marshall Crenshaw, Marti Jones) on bass; Ahmed Sullivan on drums/percussion; Michael Lipton on electric guitar; Todd Burge on backing vocals and Billy Matheny on mandolin. On this album, “One More Door,” garnered critical attention with its complex melody and lyrical tale of longing.
“Cowdery proves the you do not need to live in a hotbed of musical creativity, or a trendy locale, in order to make outstanding music. On this, her fourth album, she continues to be the consummate “folksinger,” without the chains of irony or the desperate pleas of the young thinking they are the first to climb that mountain and see the river below.”
Amos Perrine, No Depression
“[Cowdery] expresses common thoughts better than most of us can, and therein, even in the midst of the sadness in some of the lyrics, we find comfort.”
Jim Hynes, Country Standard Time
“Midway through my first pass it’s obvious how outstanding it is – musically/sonically/lyrically. I’m new to the artist. Revelatory.“
Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots, WMOT
Rj Cowdery hails from Ohio, but her latest album, What If This Is All There Is, contains enough broken Rust Belt dreams to fit comfortably into the “sad cowboy” genre.
Andy Gulden, Americana Highways
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