When a music aficionado sees the word “American” implied as a genre, a certain aesthetic may coalesce in their limbic cortex. Depending on the age that they musically matured, this wide angled lens could include “Americana”, signalling banjos, beards, and craft brews. Or “Alt-country”, which has pretty much spread to each and every performer or group that gets ignored by mainstream “Hot Country” radio. It could also include those US flag-waving patriots in Stetson cowboy hats that are espousing their political beliefs in twangy fashion. And if you keep digging back in that vinyl-filled milk crate, you’ll arrive in an era when two different scenes, yet somewhat seemingly alike, coexisted with each other.
Without a doubt, when it came to “American” (mainstream) rock music, Bruce Springsteen was crowned the John Deere King for his “Born In the U.S.A.” album. Then you had John Cougar Mellencamp scaling the charts with his document on rural, cornfed life on “Scarecrow”. But in between “Urban Cowboy” and Farm Aid, there was a vibrant pack of underground musicians who were weaned on the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and classic honky tonk. Bands like the Long Ryders, Green On Red, and the Beat Farmers amplified their influences into their own individually crafted styles, eventually giving birth to what would become known as “Cowpunk”. And while Jason and the Scorchers were taking their “Hank Williams on steroids” sound to college radio, a no-bullshit vocal gunslinger from Indiana named Pat Todd decided to take his bunch, known as the Lazy Cowgirls, to the streets of Los Angeles.
Forming the band in 1983, Todd’s Cowgirls included three of his Indy cohorts: guitarist Doug Phillips, bassist Keith Telligman, and drummer Allen Clark. Although they had plenty in common with their SoCal punk peers, there was a more technically proficient sound that easily knocked dicks in the dirt. Sure, they played hard, and they played fast, but there was a superior rocking intensity that separated them from the SST crowd. This was a whole different breed of cowpunk, that obviously displayed their disdain for following any cliches. In 1985 their self-titled debut was released on Restless Records, produced by Slash Magazine scribe/Flesh Eaters founder Chris “D” Desjardins. Two years later, “Tapping the Source” was out on the ultra-hip label Bomp!, followed by “Radio Cowgirl”, the record that helped establish Sympathy For the Record Industry in 1989. After “How It Looks-How It Is” in 1990, Telligman and Clark quit, leading to several line-up changes throughout the coming years. In 2004, the Cowgirls dropped their final album “I’m Goin’ Out and Get Hurt Tonight” on Reservation Records.
Pat Todd still had plenty to say, and plenty of music to record, prompting him to continue on in Pat Todd and the Rankoutsiders. Proving this, their first album “The Outskirts Of Your Heart” was a double disk, that was released on Pat’s own label Rankoutsider in 2007. That next year, “Holdin’ Onto Trouble’s Hand” made its way to a rabid fan base, along with “14th and Nowhere” in 2013, followed by “Blood & Treasure” in 2016. Pat’s current brood includes Nick Alexander, Steven Vigh, Walter Phelan, and Kevin Keller.
On May 31, Berlin-based Hound Gawd! Records proudly unleashed the fifth full length must-have from Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, “The Past Came Callin'”. While most bands, particularly of the rock ‘n’ roll variety, tend to get weaker as they age, this sure as hell isn’t the case with Pat and his ‘Outsiders. There are elevations of supreme that groups have tried to perfect for all of their careers, yet they still fail. With his trademark feral, vocal style, Pat (and his Rankoutsiders) makes quite a lot of them look (and sound) like amateurs. The opening track, “If Only I Could Fly Backwards In Time”, doesn’t waste seconds in slinging out some serious hi-octane grease, but never dumbing down the subject matter. This is what makes Pat different from so many other lyricists in the underground. He has stories to tell, and is able to achieve this, without sacrificing his vision of what he wants to get across to the listener. Pat goes 100% with his passion, and you can feel it from every word he sings, to every ‘Outsider guitar lick that fills in the tapestry of this album (as well as his others). If you’ve never heard any of Pat’s previous albums, this one song will certainly clue you in to what he’s all about.
The second track, “The Ballad Of Crystal Valladares”, flat out steam rolls your ass, but still possesses the quality of being catchy and fun. “Call You On Sunday Night” could easily be a country song, and even though I’m not saying it isn’t, it’s still a rocker with a beat. But this selection is just one of many that exhibits Pat’s versatility and care that he submerges his creativity into, and comes up with something that hits your musical G-spot. On “The Ring, the Bottle, and the Gun”, Pat takes a backseat (but contributes backing vocals) while Rankoutsider Kevin Keller provides his throat duties. “Goin’ Nowhere” was originally intended for the previous LP “14th and Nowhere”, but got lost in the shuffle. Pat thankfully resurrected this “top down on the freeway” tune for us old schoolers that still think that cruisin’ is a lost piece of American culture. “A New Pair Of Eyes”, “Yeah, Ya Had A Bad Night”, and “Somewhere Down the Line” are other highlights, but overall, this album is just THAT. FUCKING. GOOD. You get punk, country, the ’50s, and more. This is a piece of art that allows you to take it where you want, while it takes you where you need to be.
Pick up a copy of “The Past Came Callin'” directly from the Hound Gawd! Records website.
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Band photo by Michael Passman.