[5 April 2006]
Having been a band for more than 15 years, Cowboy Mouth have endured a lot: personnel changes; label switches; the fickle nature of pop music trends; the disappointment of getting signed to a major label, only to be let go for failing to meet illogical sales goals. This isn’t to mention the sheer stress and labor that goes into maintaining a band; band members, after all, are like family members, and anybody who has worked with family knows that it’s a delicate situation at best. But Cowboy Mouth have soldiered on, undeterred by the constant obstacles that never fail to fall in their path. Their inspiration and sustenance has always been music, whatever the lineup, label, or current trend.
Never, though, could the band have fathomed that their hometown—so inextricably linked to their music—would be decimated. While working on their 11th release, Voodoo Shoppe, Cowboy Mouth would meet their most daunting hindrance yet: Hurricane Katrina. The band had most of the songs for the album written, but Katrina not only devastated New Orleans, it also threatened to wash away the amazing and delicate patchwork of cultural and musical influences unique to the city. Uncertain about the future of their hometown, Cowboy Mouth suddenly found a new purpose. Voodoo Shoppe wouldn’t be simply another album that blended styles like gumbo; it would become the band’s rallying cry for their home, a tangible sign that life has not only returned to—but never left—Nawlins.
And for the most part, Voodoo Shoppe is not only a solid album, but also a wonderful sign of life, celebrating the varied musical heritage and culture of New Orleans. As they have done on previous releases, Cowboy Mouth continue to blend blues grooves, punk rock riffs, and hard rock beats. Thrown into this mix are hints of funk and poignant piano ballads. Such varied influences might sound schizophrenic from another band, but Cowboy Mouth have learned from their hometown that the collision of disparate elements can yield magical results.
The overwhelming influence on Voodoo Shoppe is punk, and the album begins with an homage to one of punk’s godfathers, the late Joe Strummer. Both catchy and humorous, the track—aptly named “Joe Strummer”—depicts a narrator who jettisons a romantic interest for not being familiar with the Clash. The song, up-tempo and upbeat, reveals the overall tone of the album: frenetic, fun, and frivolous. Indeed, other tracks, such as “Winds Me Up” and “I Told Ya” are also grounded in punk and exude life. “Winds Me Up” is a straight-forward rocker, all barre chords, raw momentum, and lascivious lyrics. “Velvet Skirts and Leather Heels,” the lyrics read, “She pulls me in and takes it real slow.” Get me to the French Quarter—now. “I Told Ya,” on the other hand, leans more to a punk-blues blend, mixing raw riffs with a call-and-response chorus.
Two of the tracks on Voodoo Shoppe were written after Hurricane Katrina, and while each is written in a different style, both are moving. “Home” is a mid-tempo groove, combining a menacing drum beat, funky bass playing, and bluesy guitar riffs. The stark sound of the music perfectly underscores the frank nature of the lyrics, which capture the unbreakable connection to home and community: “I want to go home when the levee breaks / I want to go home where the streets have holes…” “The Avenue,” conversely, is a piano ballad. Despite possessing an opening that sounds disturbingly like the theme to Greatest American Hero, the song is poetic in its imagery. Referring to New Orleans’ unique color, the song proclaims, “the parades will ride again / I’ll see my family and my friends / Because this cannot be the end of the avenue.” Anyone who has been to the city even once knows its historical and cultural significance, and “The Avenue” perfectly articulates New Orleans’ mystique.
Voodoo Shoppe, however, is not without its missteps. Some of the lyrics, unfortunately, suffer from connect-the-cliché, such as “Hole in My Heart,” which is wounded by such lyrical laziness as “You say that I’m crazy / Well that might be true” and “Love is something earned and not just spoken.” Other tracks build up to… well, not much, because the choruses are anti-climatic. The title track, for instance, contains the less-than-clever chorus of “Voodoo Shoppe / Voodoo Shoppe / I live upstairs from a Voodoo Shoppe.” Too bad the supernatural magic didn’t migrate upstairs, eh? This, however, is a rather minor offense since many lyrics look ridiculous when divorced from their musical context. Few lyrics read like poetry, and even Dylan and Young are writing lyrics that look downright banal on the printed page.
Ultimately, Voodoo Shoppe is a testament to both Cowboy Mouth’s and New Orleans’ resilience. While the album doesn’t contain any hit singles—and the band should be smart enough to know they will never be pop stars and mature enough to no longer care—it’s a solid addition to the band’s remarkable and storied career. Like a big ol’ bowl of jambalaya from Mothers, Voodoo Shoppe is tasty and fulfilling. More importantly, it’s a reminder that there’s still no place on earth like Nawlins. Laissez les bons temps rouler—again.