It’s generally best to approach the solo albums that musicians make and release themselves with extreme caution. After all, if no one was interested in releasing it, there’s probably a good reason for it. Also, if they’re recording said project themselves, odds are it isn’t going to sound that good, either. Here on Earth, the latest solo album from Cowboy Mouth drummer and mouthpiece Fred LeBlanc, definitely sounds like a home recording. The songs, however, are much better than expected, though it would be a stretch to call the album great as a whole. LeBlanc is also exposing himself as a big softie, with an abundance of Hootie-esque mid tempo numbers scattered throughout.
Leadoff track “So Much the Better” is not one of them, however. It sounds more like vintage Barenaked Ladies, particularly the chorus. Not quite as biting with the turn of phrase as Stephen Page can be, but the melody is a dead ringer. “Inside” is a nifty groove oriented ballad, and shows a funkier side than Cowboy Mouth fans have previously seen. The decision to cover both “My Way” and Greg Kihn’s “Breakup Song” is admittedly suspect, since it shows that he was lacking in original material. But he didn’t particularly screw either of them up (which would have been really easy to do in the case of the former), so he gets off with a warning. “Color Me Gone” should have been saved for the next Cowboy Mouth album. The song is filled with crunchy guitars, thundering drums and the lyrical defiance that makes their albums and live shows such fun.
Where things get questionable is on songs that sound like they were written for Darius Rucker, to whom LeBlanc on occasion sounds frighteningly similar. Take “Island,” which would have fit right in on Hootie’s Cracked Rear View. “Forever Tonite” sounds like it was written for Budweiser, with a chorus of “Here’s to you, and all you do / We’re gonna live forever / We’re gonna live forever tonite.” “Stay With Me Tonight” is another Hootie-ish ballad, though with half the hook as “Island”. The clearest sign that this is a home recording, though, goes to the trumpet solo in “Better”, in which at least three notes are missed in each passage the man played. Perhaps they ran out of a) tape, b) time, or c) patience, but to allow a solo like that to make the final master is inexcusable.
Given Cowboy Mouth’s hectic touring schedule, despite no record deal to speak of, Here on Earth should be considered a success with an asterisk. He didn’t have much time to put it together, which shows in places like the abominable trumpet solo. But there are enough strong songs here and passable covers there to make the lite rock ballads and beer jingles tolerable. For fans, that is.