CD Review of Voodoo Shoppe by Cowboy Mouth
Label
Eleven Thirty Records
Cowboy Mouth:
Voodoo Shoppe

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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W
hen we last heard from the traveling Party-O-Matic that is Cowboy Mouth from New Orleans, Louisiana, are you with me, times were dark indeed. Bassist Rob Savoy left the band. They released Uh-Oh, a sorry excuse for an album that consisted of little more than songs culled from the band members’ solo projects (in one case, it was the exact same version that appeared on a solo album). They recruited a new bassist (Mary LaSange), only to have her leave the band a year later. The road, at long last – the band routinely does upwards of 300 shows a year – was wearing them down. Oh, and then their hometown was wiped off the planet.

Pretty daunting circumstances, to be sure, but if there is one band that could circle the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, well, used to, it’s Cowboy Mouth. They picked up a new bass player (the lovely Sonia Tetlow), took the dough they made from a live CD recorded at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and put it into making a proper follow-up to their 2000 watershed album Easy, recruiting producers like Russ T. Cobb (Avril Lavigne), Mark Bryan (Hootie & the Blowfish), and Mitch Allen (SR-71) to hone the Mouth into something that, finally, has a shot at the brass ring. And for the most part, they succeed; Voodoo Shoppe is a fitting snapshot of the things that Cowboy Mouth does best, whipping together some rockers, mid-tempo strollers and a dash of New Orleans sleaze. The album is far from perfect, though; quite simply, some of the songs on here flat out stink.

They come screaming out of the gate with instant classic “Joe Strummer,” a supercharged punk-popper where lead singer/drummer Fred LeBlanc dumps his girlfriend “’cause she didn’t know who Joe Strummer was” (and rightfully so). If ever a song was going to net Cowboy Mouth a larger audience, this is the one, with hipster subject matter, trademark punk-pop harmonies, and a call-and-response bit that will have the crowd raise their fists and scream “Hey!” in a manner that would make the Ramones proud. “This Much Fun” is another vintage LeBlanc revenge-fueled kiss-off, in the vein of “Friends” or “Get Out of My Way,” though less mean, while rhythm guitarist Paul Sanchez turns in the delightful “Slow Down,” a BoDeans-style harmony-drenched pop ditty. Getting Tetlow to sing backup, which LaSange never did in her time with the band, has also given the songs a whole new depth, much like when the Jayhawks added Karen Grotberg on Tomorrow the Green Grass, not coincidentally that band’s best album.

And then there are the Griff songs. Sweet Jesus, are they bad. They are not entirely his responsibility – the band, for the first time, wrote the songs together and divvied up the writing credits – but John Thomas Griffith gets some real dogs to sing. “Winds Me Up,” for example, boasts a chorus of “Breaks me, shakes me, and I let her / Treads on me, and I won’t forget her / She winds me up,” leaving no cliché unturned. “Supersonic” might be even worse: “Get me off the ground / Fly my upside down / Fly me ‘til I’m found / Take me to the speed of sound / Call me crazy, I’m supersonic, baby, overdrive.” Lord, have, mercy. LeBlanc also drops a dud with “I Told Ya,” which actually has the line “the hot get hot and the cold get colder.” In fairness to the album, these are the only weak moments – everything else ranges from pleasant (“Misty Falls”) to exceptional (“Joe Strummer”) – but these three songs do so much damage to the tracks around them that the album actually appears to be worse than it really is.

It’s best to view Voodoo Shoppe with some perspective; that is, if any other band had suffered what they did over the last three years – Sanchez, for one, lost everything he owned in Hurricane Katrina – they would certainly be finished. Instead, Cowboy Mouth took those lemons and made lemonade, though the occasional lemon did slip onto the album intact. Despite their attempts to get in the ring, so to speak, and get that Big Hit Single that continues to elude them, Cowboy Mouth is probably not going to become any more popular than they already are, and for once, that’s a good thing. It keeps the band members honest, and it retains the intimacy and the impact of their spectacular live shows. One thing’s for sure: another record like Uh-Oh, and their faithful fan base would have suffered a mass exodus. Luckily for them, they did much better than that this time around.

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