[24 March 2005]
The last five years are probably not the worst times New Orleans’ favored sons in Cowboy Mouth have ever encountered, but they certainly haven’t been the best, either. Since the original release of its 2000 album Easy, the band has lost two bass players (Rob Savoy and Mary LaSang). It has been dropped from two record labels (Atlantic imprint Blackbird and Tower Records’ house label 33rd Street). The band is currently circling the wagons, holed up in the studio and preparing new material. In the meantime, they give us Easy. Again. And while it’s only been five years since its initial release, it’s funny what a few years will do to an album.
When this album was released in the summer of 2000, it was supposed to be their time, the moment where the world reached out to them and, armed with arguably their best material, they met the world halfway. The songs appealed to nearly everyone, and the label had a multi-pronged radio assault at its fingertips: send guitarist John Thomas Griffith’s speed-rocker “I Know It Shows” to alternative radio. Give classic rock “All American Man”, whose kickass “Not Fade Away” drum beat was tailor made for any station that considers George Thorogood a drinking buddy. As for the wussy Mix stations, use the Hootie-ish “Marianne” or, should they dare to actually raise the bar a smidge, the haunting “Always Leaving”. And we haven’t even discussed fan favorites and live set staples like the title track and the dumb-yet-irresistible “Everybody Loves Jill”. The possibilities were endless.
Unless, of course, you did what Blackbird chose to do: release “How Do You Tell Someone”, which had already popped up on at least two of Cowboy Mouth’s previous studio albums, as the first and only single. Then send the album straight to the cutout bin. Ye gods.
It was a missed opportunity, to be sure, so the band decided to set the record straight. It bought the album back from now-defunct Blackbird and re-released it through Valley Entertainment, a label that boasts a series of Celtic Twilight albums. According to the press sheet (which has at least one typo), Easy has been “remastered” and “re-sequenced”, claims that are dubious at best. It’s difficult to tell exactly what, if anything, was changed in the remastering process, and as for the re-sequencing, well, that consisted of removing the three contributions from Savoy, and replacing them with two live cuts, one of which is, yep, “How Do You Tell Someone”. The album may flow a little better as a result—Savoy’s contributions weren’t songs so much as 30-second interludes—but it loses its soul in the process. The all-for-one, one-for-all ethos that once fueled the band is gone, replaced by good old-fashioned fiscal responsibility. Sigh.
But never mind the band getting in the way of itself. Time has had impact on Easy as well, and the dated production is only part of it. Easy came out in a time of “Smooth”, Creed, Vertical Horizon, N’Sync, Nine Days, and Savage Garden. It now lives in a world with Linkin Park, Outkast, Evanescence, Hoobastank, Usher, and the White Stripes. If Easy had a shot at breaking five years ago, it doesn’t stand a chance in hell now, even if they send the right song to radio (which they did, choosing “I Know It Shows”). The musical climate is, frankly, a lot more hostile than it was five years ago.
And don’t think the band doesn’t know it, as its live shows have suffered a similar fate. The fans don’t just toss Tootsie Rolls at the band during “Hurricane Party”, they whip them at the band with the intent of leaving a mark. Meanwhile, LeBlanc has started dropping so many F-bombs between songs that the US military should sign him up as a war strategist. Isn’t it good to be alive? No, not when you’re losing an eye from getting gouged with a red spoon.
Easy was Cowboy Mouth’s best chance at the brass ring, but its re-release is less about righting past wrongs than it is about getting proper payment for its largely out of print catalog. Truthfully, it’s difficult to blame the band for making this move. After playing 150-plus dates a year, it has to be tired, and is now taking steps to ensure alternate revenue streams for the future that won’t involve so much time on the road. What would best suit them, though, is getting a full time bass player and becoming a band again, not just a live attraction.