Lovedrug’s Wild Blood Worth the Wait

It’s been a crazy, yet rewarding, past few years for Lovedrug.  The band from Ohio, settled down in Nashville, funded their own album, took full creative control of their career, and ultimately delivered a strong album with this week’s long-awaited release of Wild Blood. From the opening notes of the title track to the riveting close of the beautiful final track “Anodyne” it’s a powerful, passionate and very “real” album.

The Alternative Rock veterans have had previous releases with Columbia and Militia Records which were received with modest levels of success.  This time, they went with a creative fan-funded approach that gave the band total freedom and full responsibility for the final product, and clearly, it works.  Lead singer Michael Shepard offered “We’ve been a band for ten years now, but at the same time, this feels like our first album. We feel like a new band, and that same energy is still there and I feel like it’s becoming even more intense.”

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Shepard’s unique voice is back in fine form, but the real power to Wild Blood is the fantastic guitar work throughout by both Shepard and Jeremy Gifford.  The band also took a different approach to recording this album, where the full band played the songs together rather then later meshing together the independent tracks as most other recordings do these days.  Coupled with bassist Thomas Bragg and drummer James Freshwater, the band sounds cohesive and passionate.

The album features some fantastic anthemic rock, particularly “Wild Blood,” “Ladders,” “We Were Owls” and “Pink Champagne.” “Dinosaur” is another fun sound that is likely to bounce around in your head for days after listening to it.

“Your Country” and “Premonition” are my personal favorites.  Both feature a great, fresh sound that actually reminds me musically of early 90’s U-2 guitar work. In “Your Country,” the lyrics and chorus are addictive and the message resonates with the struggles most Americans are faced with during these difficult times. “Premonition” offers Shepard’s finest vocal work and has a great real “budding relationship” feel to it.

Wild Blood closes powerfully with the emotional “Anodyne,” a musical olive branch offered to a troubled soul.  Strong, powerful stuff, and a great way to close the album.

There are a few mediocre tracks mixed in, but overall, it’s an excellent album (check it out below)

Rock On! Cretin

Interested in learning more about front man Michael Shepard: Check out this interview from late 2011.

 

Huey Lewis and the News

The first time I saw Huey Lewis and the News was at one of those all-day rock festivals in the early eighties with about 80,000 of my closest friends. Their set was relatively short and included all of their hits. It was an energetic, electric, fun time. A few years later, I saw them headlining an arena tour, pimping their newest album; this time they failed to impress. When they visited Orlando this weekend for a free concert on the streets of the City, I was curious to see what show we were going to get all these years later.

The band launched into their 90 minute set, entering to a pounding heartbeat and one of their biggest hits, “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” The band played all of their hits and truly seemed focused on reminiscing their successful career. Huey Lewis, at the age of 61, is still a strong front man. He interacted with the crowd all night, still bounced around the stage (albeit a little bit more slowly), retaining a decent semblance of his trademark gravelly voice, truly seeming to enjoy himself.

All of the expected tunes were there, and they also included a few twists. At one point all of the band members came front and center and sang a few a cappella doo wop songs. They all seemed to have a blast, yet I couldn’t help thinking of an aged local lounge act legends Mark and Lorna, as they belted out “Sixty Minute Man.” In any event, the large crowd was clearly happy.

The band also added a few other covers, including an excellent version of JJ Jackson’s classic Motown hit “But It’s Alright.” They closed the set with “Back In Time” and then returned for a two song encore that had the crowd singing and dancing in the streets, as they closed with a nicely slowed down version of “Do You Believe In Love?” and their signature “Working For A Living.” They embody the spirit of that song and absolutely worked hard to please the satisfied crowd.

Long-time News members Johnny Colla on Sax, Bill Gibson on drums, Sean Hooper on Keyboards, John Pierce on bass and Stef Burns on guitar are still touring with the band. It’s a welcome anomaly these days as most 80’s bands tour with one key member and a bunch of recent graduates from The School of Rock.

All told, not spectacular, but a fun night out with a band aiming to please. Kudos to the group at 98.9 WMMO for putting on an excellent free downtown concert!

Mike G…

David Uosikkinen Chats about Philly Rock and Roll

David Uosikkinen is Philadelphia Rock and Roll.

He burst onto the city and national music scenes as the powerful drummer for Philly’s most successful rock export, The Hooters. Growing up a Philly kid, he’s always remembered his rock roots and is prominently back on the local scene with his new project In the Pocket, Essential Songs of Philadelphia. The project features classic Philly rockers uniting to cover gems from the city’s musical history.

We recently had a chance to spend a bit of time with the generous and effervescent musician.


Cretin: Growing up in the Philadelphia area, how did you get your first exposure to the Philadelphia rock music scene?

Uosikkinen:  There were some local TV shows,  one from Willow Grove Park where they used to show bands that played there.  I saw Sweet Stavin Chain. Woody’s Truck Shop, Todd Rundgren was in that band. The American Dream, they were another great band. Todd Rundgren had the band Nazz and  In the Pocket  covered “Open My Eyes.” There were great, great Philly bands. Then in the Seventies, you had bands like Edison Electric, Good God, Mandrake Memorial, bands like that. They had great musicians coming out of this city and really cool bands that I paid attention to.

Cretin: I’ve only heard of a few of those bands. Your knowledge of the city’s rock history is impressive.

Uosikkinen: Well, if you get a chance look them up. With the internet, you can probably learn about a lot of them. There’s some great stuff on Nazz are out there and there’s probably stuff about Mandrake Memorial and of course, there’s Richie and Charlie’s band The Soul Survivors; they had that great hit with “Expressway,” Woody’s Truck Stop, The American Dream… The American Dream had a big influence on me. I loved the song “I Ain’t Searchin.” They had a song “You Can’t Get To Heaven on the Frankford El,” which became the bridge on The Hooters “Beat Up Guitar.”

Cretin: That’s a cool tribute.

Uosikkinen : We took that from a line that Nick Jameson (from The American Dream) wrote. They had a big influence on Eric Bazilian and me. Nick is still a very good friend today, and he actually produced The Hooters’ Five by Five EP.

Cretin: So when you guys started playing together in the Eighties, you adopted a bit of a ska flavor. Where did that come from?

Uosikkinen: Well the ska influence really came from what was happening with the second wave of the British Invasion. The Clash were integrating their punk thing with reggae and dubbed out kind of music and I really dug that. Selector, The Specials, and The Police were doing that kind of stuff. And, Rob Hyman spent a lot of time in Jamaica, and we dug Bob Marley. So we incorporated those kind of vibes and rhythms into the music we were writing at that time.

Cretin: Were there any Philly influences from that era?

Uosikkinen: There was a reggae band out of Philly called House of Assembly that I paid attention to.  For us in the late 70’s, the one band that broke out of Philly and got signed to a record deal, who I admired were The A’s. That was Richard Bush and Rick DiFonzo.  They got signed to Arista and they were kind of breaking out, if you will. They didn’t have mainstream success, but to me, they were freakin rock stars.

Cretin: And now, Richard sings with you on this project.

Uosikkinen: Yeah, Richard sings every show with In The Pocket, and he sang on the first single “All My Monday’s” which was a song we did with Youth Camp, a band led by Joey Wilson, who I first saw on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert back in 1980. He was another one who got signed, he was working on trying to break out. It never really happened for Joey as a performer, but he wrote some great songs, including one that Madonna performed.

Cretin: When I first heard that your band was going to cover “Change Reaction,” my first thought was that Richard Bush would be a great choice to take the vocals.

Uosikkinen: The guy that sang on this version of Change Reaction is a Philly guy, Ben Arnold.  The line-up I have on “Change Reaction” is Ben Arnold singing, he’s actually touring in Europe right now, but will be back for our show in March; Steve Butler who played in a band called Smash Palace and Quincy, he plays guitar; John Lilly who plays in The Hooters also played in Robert Hazard and the Heroes plays guitar; and Bill Whitman, who is not a Philadelphia guy, but he’s engineered a lot of bands out of Philly he played bass; Rob Hyman plays keyboards and of course, I played drums.

Cretin: Looking forward to hearing this single. I loved the original; in fact I have the 45 in my jukebox today.

Uosikkinen: Well, we took some liberties with it.  I loved the eighties, but this is 2012. I really wanted to deliver a version of the Robert Hazard song with a 2012 twist. You will definitely recognize the song, but we changed the key and kind of took a few liberties with a couple of rhythmic lines. I’m really pleased with it and Bill Eib who managed Robert Hazard was really pleased.  He thought Robert would really have loved it.

Cretin: When Robert played cover songs he always put his own touch on them, too.

Uosikkenin: Yeah, exactly.  Robert was an amazing guy. He was really, really good.

Cretin: So looking back at the early eighties, was it a competition between The Hooters, Robert Hazard, The A’s and Beru Revue, or was it more of a brotherhood.

Uosikkinen: Back in the eighties, I think it was somewhat competitive.  We were all friends and we were all very cordial, but I think everybody was trying to get ahead. To break out of Philadelphia, so close to New York City, it was a challenge. We always had a challenge of building a fan base, and it was almost as if some of the hard core fans picked sides back then.

Cretin: For sure.

Uosikkinen: But, I think it was a healthy competitive thing.  Interestingly enough, from Hazard’s band, Rob Miller joined The Hooters and then John (Lilley) joined to play guitar; and they both played with Hazard. And, we were all such big fans of The A’s. They were playing a lot of gigs as part of that pop-punk thing which we all dug.  Their audience was exciting; the audience was as great to watch as the band.

Cretin: And, now we get a chance to see all of those guys on the same stage.

Uosikkinen: They’ve all become good friends to me.  That was the thing for me about doing In The Pocket – I had an opportunity to work with them in this capacity, and I thought “why not do a project where I can record songs of bands I really dug?” I mean who makes the rules for these kinds of things? I called Richard and he was like “Yeah, I like to sing.” I called Greg Davis from Beru Revue he said “Yeah, I love to play guitar.” Everyone I’ve asked to do it has come around to do it. Eric (Bazilian) who lives in Sweden these days; when he comes to town, he plays. It’s been a great experience for me because everybody I’ve asked has wanted to do it.

Cretin: I wish I was still in that area. These shows sound great.

Uosikkinen: The shows are awesome. If you go t my Facebook page, there’s a quick little clip of Tommy Conwell and TJ (Tindall of Edison Electric) playing “Work Out.” It’s rockin’ man. It’s TJ, Tommy and Greg Davis playing, it’s ripping.

Cretin: Greg Davis is a great guitarist.

Uosikkinen: He’s a monster guitarist. He can play anything. He’s incredible. And, he’s a nice guy, too.

Cretin: You moved to Southern California for awhile.  What drew you back to Philly?

Uosikkinen: I lived there for 20 years, and as life would have it… My marriage was dissolving and I was spending a lot of time in Philadelphia and I met somebody and that relationship got better and better, and she was in Philadelphia, so here I am.

Cretin: So it was love, and I thought you were going to say that you missed the old Philly music scene?

Uosikkinen: I did. That was part of it.  It was comfortable for me to come back to Philadelphia because a lot of my friends are here. I had a relationship, as well and that made things a little easier.

Cretin: Can you share the connection with Settlement Music School? Where did that originate?

Uosikkinen: The connection there came from Dallyn Davey. I knew about Settlement Music School, but she’s the one who told me to check out what they were doing.  In today’s economy, schools and programs that support the Arts are one of the first things to get cut. And we liked the things they do that allow people to study music, without requiring auditions, they help with money to get to the school, and they introduce people to the arts. We bring attention to the school and donate a portion of the proceeds and we think it’s an amazing organization.

Cretin: What is Dallyn’s role?

Uosikkinen: Dallyn is one of my  partners in organizing the project, and she is my girlfriend, by the way.  Also, I should mention Steve Acito who does all the documentaries and videos for In The Pocket. Steve has a big part in the whole visual side of In The Pocket, and Dallyn basically manages the project. We brainstorm and all three of us help implement all the pieces. So far, it’s been working really well. It’s been good.

Cretin: So, back to “Change Reaction,” why that Hazard song for this release.

Uosikkinen: “Change Reaction” was always one that really popped for me. I loved the riff. When we were tracking it I realized it sounded like an old song by The Outsiders, “Time Won’t Let Me” that I always dug that. It had this cool riff. To me, it was really this clever pop song that Hazard had wrote. He had a lot of great songs, but when I narrowed it down to song that I wanted to do, that is the one I had the most connection with.

Cretin: So, what”s next for In The Pocket?

Uosikkinen: I’m not sure what will be next. We had some great punk bands out of Philly: The Stickmen, The Dead Milkmen; and we had the whole Philly International thing, I was a big fan of the song “Back Stabbers;” and I don’t have any chicks on the project. It’s not necessarily a song that a girl sang in the beginning, but maybe the next record has a girl singing a song that a guy sang, and I always wanted to do an A’s song, too. Also, I’m a big fan of Tommy Conwell. I don’t know what will be next, but their definitely in my queue.

Cretin: Any parting thoughts on In The Pocket?

Uosikkinen: We’ve got our show on March 13th (at World Cafe Live). If people go to SongsInThePocket.org, there’s five songs, they’re 99 cents each. Download them and check out the videos. And, I’m just thrilled to keep the project going, and I appreciate all of the support.

Links:

Check back with us in a few weeks for our quick and casual RARA’s six-pack with David, or follow us on Twiiter to make sure you don’t miss it:


Rock On – Cretin

Flogging Molly Gets Their Irish Up

With a cover of Bob Marley’s classic “Redemption Song” pouring through the PA system, Flogging Molly exploded onto the stage at House of Blues, Orlando last night.

The Detroit based rock band with Irish punk roots, brought their sold out 6th Annual Green 17 Tour to the City Beautiful.   After taking the stage, the band immediately ripped into “Drunken Lullabies” and the fever-pitched party was underway.  By the time they wrapped up “Requiem For a Dying Song,” the capacity crowd had morphed into a writhing, bouncing, screaming mass of flesh.

They are touring in support of their recent Speed of Darkness release, one that is filled with lyrics addressing the dire straits most Americans suddenly find themselves in. From “The Power’s Out,” Dave King sang “The power’s out, just like the economy.”

Flogging Molly fans are a passionate bunch.  The band rarely gets a sniff of airplay, even over the satellite airwaves, but the Mollies’ fans know every lyric to virtually every song in their diverse catalog.  They’ve put their passionate fans before commercial success and the fans love to repay that loyalty. This night, they were in for a treat, as front man and guitarist Dave King announced they’d be digging deep into their library and reviving some of their older tunes.

Watching the show as more of an independent observer, I can share that the quality of the musicianship is impressive.  Dennis Casey’s lead riff’s were powerful all night, and his duet with drummer George Schwindt during a rollicking extended version of “Black Friday Rule” was an interesting and engaging twist on the classic guitar solo route. Nathan Maxwell on bass and Robert Schmidt on banjo had their shining moments, too; Maxwell on “Saints and Sinners” and Schmidt on “The Son Never Shines.”

Matthew Hensley’s accordion and King’s wife, Bridget Regan, on tin whistle and violin were the perfect complement to their hard rocking band mates. Regan also did a nice job taking the lead vocals on “A Prayer for Me in Silence.”

King writes the music and is clearly the heart of the band, he’s an accomplished guitar player and offers a unique, powerful and emotive voice.  He commands the stage, conducts the audience throughout and was witty and engaging.  A fantastic front man who absolutely appears to be enjoying this gig.

The crowd sang along, danced and moshed all night, and truly reached a fever pitch during “Swagger,” “The Likes of You Again,” and “Revolution.” It was an impressive site watching the mass of fans singing, chanting and gesturing at King’s biding.

The band wrapped up the set with a rocking version of “Seven Deadly Sins,” that again had the crowd bellowing along.  In a nice nod to the band’s Irish roots, the fervid crowd pulled them back onto the stage with a rollicking soccer chant of “Ole.”  King returned to the stage, congratulating the U.S Soccer team for their recent match, and slid into a relatively relaxed cover of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.”

From there it was back to the fever pitch as the crowd deliriously sang along to “Salty Dog”.  At the end of the song, they brought up the house lights and the PA pumped out Monty Python’s “Bright Side of Life.”  The band gradually exited the stage, as the fully satisfied fans slid through the doors into the Darkness.

The setlist and a link to the band’s excellent 3 disc live album are provided below.

Devil Makes Three, a unique punkish-Americana trio out of Vermont opened the show.  They had a great original sound and featured a guitarist, a banjo player complete with Gibbon-esque beard and woman on stand-up bass. No drummer, and they didn’t need one.  Their enrgertic thirty minute set absolutely left me craving for more.

Black Joe Lewis followed up and warmed up the raucous crowd with a powerful and passionate set.  The seven man wrecking crew absolutely left it all on the stage and tore through an invigorating 45 minute set. The crowd actually pulled them out for an encore, where they treated us with a fun cover version of “Surfin Bird.” Good stuff and an excellent prelude to the main act.

Rock On! – Cretin

Setlist:

Drunken Lullabies
Requiem For a Dying Song
The Speed of Darkness
Revolution
Life In a Tenement Square
Whistles the Wind
Saints and Sinners
The Likes of You Again
Swagger
The Power’s Out
The Son Never Shines
A Prayer For Me in Silence
Us of Lesser Gods
Black Friday Rule long version with Guitar/Drum duet interspersed
Oliver Boy
Float
Devil’s Dance Floor
Rebels of the Sacred Heart
If I Ever Leave This World Alive
What’s Left of the Flag
Seven Deadly Sins

Encore:
Times They are A-Changing (Dylan Cover)
Salty Dog

Lemonheads Leave a Sour Taste

Funny thing about concert reviews is that the more positive it is the more likely it will be widely read.  Bands and fans tend to pass on links for the good reviews; not so much for the negative ones. That tendency coupled with the amazing lack of interest and passion I witnessed from Evan Dando and The Lemonheads has convinced me that the right approach would be a half-assed review that reflects the band’s effort at Hard Rock’s Velvet Sessions in Orlando on Thursday night.

For all intents and purposes, The Lemonheads are Evan Dando plus two revolving players.  The other two members of his trio has literally included at least two dozen members over the last twenty years. That’s a lot of turnover. Chuck Treece, a journeyman drummer who has played with some notable acts over the years was on drums.  We expected to see Fred Mascherino (Taking Back Sunday) on bass, but he was not in the line-up this night.

The tour is featuring a 20th Anniversary tribute to The Lemonheads’ fantastic breakthrough album It’s a Shame About Ray played through in its entirety. He raced through it in under 30  minutes, spent the entire set staring at the setlist and never acknowledging the small crowd. The only sign of life from Dando was a whimsical smile as he wrapped up “Frank Mills.” He did not play “Mrs. Robinson,” still peeved that most casual fans like the song as much as any of his self-penned hits.

After wrapping up the album set, Dando played a few acoustic songs. I have the set list, but just don’t feel like typing out the songs.   The highlight of the show for me? During this acoustic set, I walked over to the bar and tried Abita’s IPA. An excellent, smooth beer with just the right level of bitterness.

Dando’s voice is still unique and poignant, but on this evening his guitar playing was uninspired. He really didn’t look his old beautiful self.  I have pictures to prove that, but why spend the effort to upload them? Through the years, I’ve read enough Lemonheads concert reviews to know it’s a crapshoot on what Evan Dando version is going to take the stage. Looks like we got the poor version. Perhaps he was under the weather again?

The other two members of the band returned to the stage to rip through a few more songs, including a few crowd favorites. I’m sure you know the ones…

51 minutes later: Exit Stage Left. The pain for Dando and the fans was thankfully over.

Cretin

Here a link to the featured album, which despite the lame show remains a 90’s masterpiece. Just don’t listen to Track 13…

Fred LeBlanc Interview, Part 2


We continue with our conversation with Cowboy Mouth founder and front man, Fred LeBlanc.

You can read Part 1 of the Interview here: Cowboy Mouth’s Fred LeBlanc

Cretin: The first time I heard about the band, my brother told me about the show and how unique it was with the drummer front and center on the stage.  He said it worked, and obviously he was right.

Fred LeBlanc:  It’s something I always knew about myself.  I had a certain vision for the way I saw myself and the things I could do.  There are certain things I’ve had to adjust to make the whole drummer/front man thing work. I sit on a riser, so I’m not taller than anybody, but I’m not shorter either. I play with only one symbol and a small drum kit so people can see me.  There’s more of an eye contact approach, and that really works.

Cretin: Sure, that helps build that connection you have with the crowd.

Fred LeBlanc: Exactly. And, it also let’s me set the tone and pace of the show. If I feel something isn’t right, I can change it right away, or if the energy gets intense, I might speed up a little, but hey, it’s rock and roll, ya know?

Cretin: It’s more fluid, and your shows are definitely fluid.

Fred LeBlanc: All of the best rock and roll moves in and out, in and out. These days when you listen to radio, everything is so perfect. There’s no swing to it. Put on headphones sometime and listen to Sticky Fingers or Beggars Banquet from the Stones. It’s a mess, guitars are out of tune, drums speed up and slow down but you know what? It works, because it’s human. It moves, it interacts with itself. It’s an organic beast.

Cretin: You’re right. It was raw passionate stuff, whereas a lot of today’s stuff is over-produced, and devoid of passion.

Fred LeBlanc: Yeah. I’m not one to say that all music needs to be recorded on one microphone through a Victorolla.  I use pro tools, too.  It’s the standard, but at the same time you have to remember to master the machine and not have the machine be your master. I try to communicate an idea, an emotion, so that the listener experiences those same things. With music, a straight line is not always the shortest path.

Cretin: You and John Thomas Griffith have been together for all fifteen years, how did that pairing come about?

Fred LeBlanc: It’s funny, because I started Cowboy Mouth with two other musicians and we had rehearsed for two months, and it was just terrible. I was about to give up. Nothing was clicking at all. Nothing against the other musicians; we just weren’t compatible. I got the idea to call Griff in and gave him a couple of songs and he learned them fast. Literally, within three seconds we went from really sucking as a three-piece to really being great as a four-piece. It was really that instantaneous. It was one of the wildest moments of my life. I was like “Did everybody else hear that?”

Cretin: Good stuff.

Fred LeBlanc: I love playing with Griff. Lord knows we’ve had our ups and downs over the years. I’m sure as much as we both love each other, there are just as many times we drive either other nuts and want to kill each other. That’s just the nature of bands. He and I, we play well together. We both play with a lot of force. We’re the same kind of players, which is really good. The band that we have now with Cass and Matt is one of the strongest we’ve ever had. We’ve never had a bad version of this band, thankfully.

Cretin: What’s next for the band? We’ve heard rumors of another studio album being close to fruition.

Fred LeBlanc: I’m almost finished it. I have a studio here at the house and have almost all of the tracks done, and I just need to tweak it a bit and hope to have it out in the next month and a half. You’ll have to check out our website and Facebook page to see how we do it; we’re going to try something a little different this time.

Cretin: Sounds interesting. We’ll keep an ear out for it.

RARA’s Six-Pack. Six fun, mindless questions

You’re favorite Saints player ever ? Man, that’s like choosing your favorite child. I’d have to say Steve Gleason. He was always this happy get back to the earth guy, who sort of stumbled into football. A really cool guy. The first year after Katrina, the Saints made a great run. Cowboy Mouth had played outside the stadium before the first game of the season, and I was predicting we’d go to the Super Bowl. Early in the game he blocked a punt and I always say it was that moment the Saints fortunes turned around.

He’s a great guy and he’s been diagnosed with ALS. He’s started a foundation that people should look up, and give to, if they possibly could. (Editor: check it out here: Steve Gleason Foundation)

Your favorite city to play in? New Orleans. I’m biased, what can I say?

Favorite Cover Song: A band out of Athens called Five-Eight. They did a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It.” They’re great and they’ve been around as long as we have. Their lead singer, Mike (Mantione) has one of the most under-heard voices in rock. He’s an insanely talented guy, and they’re a great band.

If you could share the stage with any one band, past or present? The Clash or Lee Dorsey.  That would be fun. (we proceeded to have a long conversation on The Clash, and both clearly agree they’re one of the greatest rock bands EVER)

Favorite local bar in New Orleans? I’m a big fan of Carrollton Station. Great vibe in a good little neighborhood, it’s easy. That’s my favorite place. It’s not a typical New Orleans bar, it’s away from The French Quarter. There’s places like Le Bon Temps Roule which is a good bar. The Balcony Bar is great, too.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever signed after a show? An infant. I signed his forehead “Trouble maker.”

Rock On (Are You With Me Edition) – Cretin

A Few Minutes with Fred LeBlanc – The Patron Saint of Mardi Gras

The moment these guys take the stage, you know you’re in for a special evening. They’re synonymous with New Orleans Rock ‘n Roll and their shows are a little bit different than the typical rock show. Cowboy Mouth performances are energetic, passionate and powerful experiences, driven by the heart and soul of the band, their front man, drummer Fred LeBlanc. Yup, that’s right, their drummer is front and center, belting out vocals, leading the band and energizing the crowd all while wailing away on the drums; and damn, it really works.

LeBlanc and lead guitarist/vocalist John Thomas Griffith have been together for 15+ years, playing straight from the heart rock ‘n’ roll and impressing throngs of fans with their one-of-a-kind performances.  They do it all with an unabashed connection to their beloved New Orleans, where they’ve basically become the Unofficial Band of Mardi Gras. If Cowboy Mouth is the Rock Band of Mardi Gras, Fred LeBlanc is surely The Patron Saint.  We were able to carve a few minutes of his studio time to chat about the band, his city and Cowboy Mouth’s unique connection with their fans.

Cretin: When rock music fans think about the New Orleans music scene, typically the first band they think of is Cowboy Mouth. Is that something you’re proud of?

Fred LeBlanc: Yeah, I’m definitely proud of that.  My whole career I’ve been trying to show that you don’t have to go to a big media center to make a living in music. But with the advent of the web and all of the other advances over the last ten to fifteen years (it’s easier). I tend to look at being in the music business like owning a small business. I’ve always found that it’s better when you’re that exotic visitor from out of town.

Cretin: Yeah, rather than being one of many in a large market?

Fred LeBlanc: That’s tough trying to come in and mark out some of somebody else’s turf. It’s always better to be a visitor, to go somewhere and get out. And it helps if it’s from some place colorful like New Orleans. Growing up I didn’t really have a sense that New Orleans was so different. It’s not until you’ve traveled around that you realize there’s no po boys in Atlanta, there’s no red beans and rice in Norflok, Virginia. New Orleans tends to celebrate its highs and lows. Our ability to laugh at ourselves for the things that are both positive and negative about the city is a unique spin on life.

Cretin: For folks from New Orleans, including Cowboy Mouth, you seem to wear your emotions right there for everyone to see, whether it’s joy or sadness.

Fred LeBlanc: You know, we played a show in New Orleans last Sunday at The Mardi Gras festival and before we played “I Believe” we mixed it with an older song I wrote called “The Avenue.” It was written right after Katrina. I didn’t want to write anything angry or pointing fingers, I wanted to write a song that was like a musical arm around the shoulders to say “Hey, this is bad, but everything will be okay.”  Coupling that with “I Believe” on this tour shows that we’ve been to the bottom, we’ve been to hell and back, and we got back due to our faith in each other as people and in our community.

Cretin: You’re right the city’s recovery came a lot from inside the community.

Fred LeBlanc: That’s kind of like the whole Cowboy Mouth idea. In the song “I Believe” it’s about how faith above everything else can bring out the very best of you in terms of strength.  It’s the act of having faith and what that creates inside the human spirit to make us go above and beyond.

Cretin: So, getting back to Katrina, you guys had some personnel changes right after Katrina. Did that event have any impact on the way you approached music and your shows?

 Fred LeBlanc: No, I think it reinforced what we did. We had some personnel changes after Katrina, but those were coming long before Katrina anyway. Keeping a bunch of musicians focused is a very difficult thing, because musicians by definition tend to follow their own muse. We’ve had people in the band who’ve wanted to go do their own thing, and that’s fine. When people part it’s never pretty, but you need to wish them the best and move forward. You go through all of the crappy emotions, but eventually time heels everything… It’s just life, and you learn as you go on.

Cretin: I think that’s why you connect so well with the crowd. A lot of the lyrics and themes to the songs are things people can relate to, even people who’ve never seen Cowboy Mouth before.

Fred LeBlanc: Well, thank you. When I formed the band, my goal was to create something kind of spiritual. I grew up Catholic.  I wanted to believe, but it was all about “you’re an original sinner, you’re terrible,” and then the things that took place with some of the priests; it shook your faith. I had a friend of mine in New Orleans, I’d sneak out of the house on Sunday morning because they had a black Gospel church and these people were just going to town, dancing and screaming, raising a ruckus, and they all left in the best mood, feeling great as a community. I left thinking “I want to do that.” And, I wanted to bring that to rock and roll.

Cretin: The Gospel roots definitely come through in your shows.

Fred LeBlanc: I wanted to bring that energy to rock and roll without limiting it to a certain religious message.  As far as religion goes, the worst thing you can do is limit the almighty.  I tried to write about things that everybody goes through, you know, “write what what you know.” It was not trying to make grandiose statements, it was more “Hey, this is what I’ve been through. Here’s how I got through it. Isn’t it great to be alive?”

Cretin: And, a lot of people resonate to that.

Fred LeBlanc: They seem to. I’ve been doing this 22 years, so obviously I’m doing something right. I also think that with Cowboy Mouth, I get a lot of attention for being the front man. It’s not about me just saying “Ain’t I wonderful, Ain’t I the shit?” No, I take all of that energy the audience is enthusiastic to give and I just focus it back on them.

Cretin: I’ve tried to describe Cowboy Mouth shows to people who have never seen the band nor know the music very well. It’s hard to compare to any other show, but I say it’s a combination of passion, good music and almost a feeling of togetherness, which no one else can replicate. It’s something unique that you guys do really well.

Fred LeBlanc: When people leave a Cowboy Mouth show, they feel good.  How much these days is designed to make people feel good about themselves? Look at mass media, it’s designed to keep us scared. A Cowboy mouth show is a celebration of yourself.  I’m not really into the status thing or trying to play cool. I have no problem of being looked at as some kind of musical court jester, because at the end of the day, the court jester is the only one who can tell the truth to the king.

Cretin: You mention how your shows are different; there are other drummers who play huge roles for their bands: Don Henley, Dave Grohl and Phil Collins, but none of them do it the way you do. You’re the only guy who is front and center. Was that something you drove?

Fred LeBlanc: I got tired of sitting in the back and watching guitar players butts who weren’t better singers. I thought “I’m a better singer, why am I in the back? My songs are more hooky and better than that guy’s songs.” The truth of the matter is I kind of just got tired of it. I got tired of the whole “You’re just a drummer shut up.” I had put together a nice backlog of songs, and I quit the band. As good as the band was, it was really just a crazy drug psycho-fueled, wild hayride, but I needed to get away from it. It got to the point where I needed to do something because this is killing me. It wasn’t just killing my body, it was killing my soul.

So, that’s it for part one. We’ll have part two posted on Fat Tuesday as we continue our chat with the Patron Saint of Mardi Gras...

Sweet and Sour Skull Candy

The deeply anticipated second album from Band of Skulls is available on iTunes now and hitting all other major retailers on Valentines Day. The album, Sweet Sour, shows how the British trio’s sound has evolved over the past few years.  It’s a fresh sound for them, yet one that hearkens back to the classic album rock of the Seventies.

The title track gets the album off to a powerful heavy soulful rock sound.  It’s got a big classic rock feel to it and sets the course for the remainder of the album. Russell Marsden’s vocals and guitar take a new turn for the band with good results. The drums of Matt Hayward are excellent, as well.

Overall, the album is quite diverse, as the band pushes new boundaries and tests new waters.  Most of it works great, and it is a fun listen.  There are a couple of tracks that don’t quite hit the mark, but they’re in the minority.

“Wanderluster” is a creative new approach that works perfectly.  It’s a fluid song where the tempo ebbs and flows fantastically and Marsden’s tender vocals pull it together nicely. Emma Richardson grabs the vocals and shines on “Lies.” This uptempo song is 2:30 seconds of rock and roll perfection, and my favorite song on the album. You’ll find a handful of other excellent powerful rock tunes, such as the bass-driven “Bruises” and “The Devil Takes Care of His Own.”

There’s also a nice selection of slower tunes on Sweet Sour, the best of which is Richardson’s beautiful “Hometown.” It’s got a sweet ballad feel, with lyrics that make you re-think its sweetness. “Navigate” is another of the slower tunes that works extremely well.  The vocals and guitar are hypnotic and memorable.

It’s not all perfect, and there are a couple of songs I could easily do without. The final track, “Close To Nowhere” feels like a B-Side. “Lay My Head Down” starts off as a delicate ballad with great potential, then suffers what seems like a random explosion of miscellaneous musical crap for a few seconds before sliding back into ballad mode. Sure, it’s creative, but it just doesn’t work, unfortunately, wasting a good song.

Overall, it’s a damn good album.  A nice flashback to the powerful arena rock from the classic Seventies with a great modern twist.  The Sweet far outweighs the Sour and we’ll be hearing cuts off of this one for years to come.

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