Cowboy Mouth: Uh-Oh

David Medsker

Cowboy Mouth


Label: 33rd Street
US Release Date: 2003-07-29

If the energy of Cowboy Mouth's live shows could be bottled up, it would knock Prozac off the shelves. They're not so much rock and roll -- though they definitely rock -- as they are a pack of traveling street preachers with instruments, spreading the gospel that is the glorious gift of life. Lead singer and drummer Fred LeBlanc is like Jimmy Swaggart on amphetamines, relentlessly whipping the audience into a frothy sea of the sweatiest, happiest, and hoarsest people on the planet. If you can speak after attending a Cowboy Mouth show, then you just weren't giving it your all. Slacker.

And then there is the matter of their CDs. Nearly every good live band seems to have incredible difficulty getting that concert vibe to come through their studio work. Cowboy Mouth may be the poster children for this. Their recent trip back down to the minor leagues, after their 2000 major label album Easy, hasn't helped matters, either. Uh-Oh, their newest, is good in the way that all Cowboy Mouth albums are good, though it's not nearly as solid as Easy and has noticeable production flaws. Had they instead recorded these songs live at Jazzfest and released that, now that would have been something.

The album starts off rather oddly, with a techno-laced version of The Most Impossible Beatles Song To Cover But People Keep Trying Anyway, "Tomorrow Never Knows". Surprisingly, they fare better than most, all mid-period Poi Dog Pondering and Zooropa similarities aside. "Disconnected" is the clear single in waiting, and it's one of the best songs here, even if it's a direct knockoff of Easy's title track. "Bad Girl" sounds custom made for George Thorogood, a lean, fast, cow-punk stomper that's one of LeBlanc's finest. "Tell the Girl", on the other hand, is lazy, taking a generous nick of Deadeye Dick's "New Age Girl", and giving it an embarrassing expletive fueled chorus. And what's with the turntable scratches? Those are sooooooo 1997.

The most distracting part of Uh-Oh lies in its sound, which is, frankly, awful. The drum tracks are tinny and muddled at the same time. The guitars don't have half the bite that lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith is capable of providing. This sharp drop in sound quality also cripples some of the more saccharine songs, like the title track, which might go down better with a spoonful of well-produced sugar, something that definitely benefited Easy tracks "Marianne" and "Everything You Do". LeBlanc has no one else to blame for this but himself, either, since he served as Uh-Oh's producer.

Clearly, money was an issue in making this album, and nothing exemplifies that more than "Better", a song which originally appeared on LeBlanc's 2002 solo album, Here on Earth. The problem is not that they're using solo material for band efforts -- they've been doing that for years -- but rather that it's the exact same version as the one on Here on Earth, including that god-awful trumpet solo in the break. It suggests that the band is fractured at the core, perhaps a side effect of the recent departure of bassist Rob Savoy. (Curiously, Savoy was not thanked or mentioned in the album credits.) As well as producing, LeBlanc has stepped up his songwriting duties, penning nine of the album's 12 original songs and leaving Griffith and guitarist Paul Sanchez to fight over the scraps. The fact that they're releasing LeBlanc's solo efforts, with no musical input from the rest of the band, under the Cowboy Mouth name is either a brilliant cost cutting measure or proof positive that album apathy has set in.

Perhaps Griffith and Sanchez are okay with this, since they still make a mint on the road. But it does not bode well for the long-term success of the band. Cowboy Mouth were four very talented and distinct songwriters who came together to form the most versatile party band ever. However, as charismatic as their crazed drummer is, the absolute last thing that Cowboy Mouth should become is The Fred LeBlanc Show featuring Paul and Griff, which is exactly where they're headed.

Uh-Oh shows a band at a crossroads, both creatively and professionally. Savoy may not have been a major contributor in terms of songwriting (though his "I-10 West" was a set list staple), but he was absolutely crucial in terms of ego balance -- think George Harrison -- and his absence is noticeable. It's still too early to predict the band's imminent demise, but one thing is for sure: nothing will ever be Easy again.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.