by Fred Mills
Musicians have been writing songs about the imbibing, the celebration, the aftereffect and, sometimes, the tragic consequences of booze since at least medieval times. Even longer, probably, commencing when Piltdown man finally learned how to alternate between playing a ragged tune upon and hoisting a stone vessel to his lips. Pat Todd, of Los Angeles’ Lazy Cowgirls no doubt knows a thing or two about ye olde demon rum, as evidenced when, in 1986, he penned the tune “Goddamn Bottle.” The bottoming-out ode would appear the next year on the Cowgirls’ second album Tapping The Source, but in truth, as good as it was, most folks probably heard it as just one among a dozen-odd adrenalized Stones/New York Dolls-styled anthems.
He must have known it was special, however, because the tune’s been a mainstay of Cowgirls set lists ever since, across umpteen albums and lineup shuffles. And for his latest, possibly greatest platter Todd has resurrected it. As produced by longtime studio cohort Earle Mankey, the Cowgirls still emit, as is their stock-in-trade, a hi-nrg roar. No longtime fan will be displeased to encounter tracks such as the volcanic R&B of “You’re The Thing,” the Sex Pistolsesqe title track or the ’60s-ish rave-up “Burnin’ Daylight.” Here, guitarist Michael Leigh emerges as one of the great punk guitarists, period, and Todd’s latest Cowgirls rhythm section, drummer Roy Morgan and bassist Leonard Keringer, are no small fries either, making the Charlie Watts-Bill Wyman work ethic look easy. Did we mention that the stocky, balding Todd is not only a charismatic frontman but the owner of a pair of butane-scorched lungs that most rockisback! mopes would give their trust funds for?
Yet as recent years have seen Todd increasingly dip into country and singer-songwriter territory, the album also swings pointedly in that direction — notably, the dusty-trail Western ruminations of “Swept Across The Borderline,” which features a guest pedal steel player. Likewise, the new incarnation of “Goddamn Bottle” is strummy/twangy and, slowed down a few hundred rpm, deeply reflective. In its vividly etched depiction of blue-collar desperation, it’s as tragic as a Johnny Cash boozer and as nuanced as a Dave Alvin sketch, conjuring ghosts of an abusive father, spousal turmoil and dead-end jobs while clutching to the only good thing that’s left — a goddamn bottle.
Peering uncomprehendingly at life’s suckerpunches through the amber-colored lens of his shot glass, Todd’s protagonist finally buckles and admits, “Well they ask me what I drink for/ What am I trying to forget?/ I can barely kneel alone/ Somebody take me home.” The sense of finality is so chilling you practically feel the guy’s spirit rise and leave the room, with Todd perfectly capturing the ultimate downward slide of an existence that simply ain’t worth living anymore. And if Todd never wrote another song — hell, if it had been the only tune he ever wrote — there would still be this one, an American classic worth hailing alongside similarly themed tunes from Cash, Alvin, Hank Williams, George Jones and others. Not that anyone would ever give perennial cult-hero Todd a pope’s chance in hell of being mentioned in such rarified musical company. Or would we? Time, in the rock ’n’ roll sense, can have a funny way of making things right.
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.