The Mouth That Roars

When Cowboy Mouth's Fred LeBlanc speaks out on self-empowerment, audiences listen.

LeBlanc began making his own music in his hometown of New Orleans. After playing in a few bands around the Crescent City area, he drummed for legendary Louisiana barn-burners Dash Rip Rock before joining forces with Griffith (formerly with the Red Rockers), ex-Blue Runners bassist Savoy, and Sanchez. Cowboy Mouth has since released eight recordings, with sales estimated at more than 400,000 copies.

The band's current disc, Easy, was released on Atlantic/Blackbird last year and is, like its shows, a mixture of anthems and radio rock. And also like its companion live shows, the disc is at its best when LeBlanc is leading the group through upbeat numbers, pairing his saber-rattling with a welcome tad of campiness and humor. The title track and lead single is a pop basher that calls to mind the '80s new wave of the Call, with blaring guitars and thundering drums bringing home the Mouth's message: "Easy to feel like there ain't nothin' in your life/Harder to work, harder to strive, hard to be glad to be alive/But it's really worth it if you give it a try." "All American Man," which roars in with a giant "I Want Candy" groove, hints at the rousing, fist-in-the air feel of the group's shows, with LeBlanc singing with a tongue tucked partially in his cheek. "Get Out of My Way" delivers the same enjoyable punch and more Cowboy philosophy: "Don't give a damn about what anybody thinks I've done/While you were nice and happy, I was out here havin' fun."

Unfortunately, the recording loses ground when the band drifts away from its message -- or when LeBlanc hands the reins over to his mates. The Latin-flavored "Let Me Hold it Open" sounds as if it was written with Ricky Martin's sales figures in mind, complete with a Mexi-melt guitar solo and saucy studio touches. Griffith and Sanchez's "Everybody Loves Jill" sounds as blatantly commercial: In the song, the pair lifts the drum pattern from Gary Glitter's "Rock II" and pairs it with a dumb tale of a woman the world loves simply because she surrounds herself with red things. If it weren't so darned serious, "Always Leaving" would be a perfect '80s rock parody, loaded with awful lines ("Just like whispers from the well/The bartender rings me like a bell"), mystical studio accents (wind blowing in the background!) and enough feigned earnestness to make Bon Jovi blush. The disc also includes a remake of Griffith's Red Rocker hit "China" that dilutes the radio gem into a heavy-breathing mess that resembles Lenny Kravitz at his MTV-sexy worst. Still, despite these glaring flaws, Easy is doing well: The title cut and "How do You Tell Someone" are getting airplay on FM radio around the country and adding to Cowboy Mouth's fan base.

You're good enough, you're smart enough, and -- gosh darn it -- Fred LeBlanc (left) and Cowboy Mouth like you.
You're good enough, you're smart enough, and -- gosh darn it -- Fred LeBlanc (left) and Cowboy Mouth like you.

The band's cynicism-smashing message is fueling that progress. LeBlanc said he had an epiphany a long time ago that is largely responsible for this aspect of his music: After years of counting on performing as a way to vent frustration and anger, his outlook shifted. As he recalls, "I thought to myself, 'If I'm going to do this and I'm going to be passionate about this, instead of doing something that's going to beat me down and deplete me, why not do something that ultimately makes me feel stronger and better about myself and about life?'"

That thinking certainly resonates with Cowboy Mouth's followers -- a group that includes a significant number of people of faith as well as dyed-in-the-wool rock-and-rollers: The typical Mouth gig is as likely to draw freshly scrubbed kids and silver-hairs as down-and-dirty rock fans. LeBlanc says the group has struck a chord with a segment of the Christian rock audience, but he's not one to preach to any demographic. "The whole thing about faith is, you've got to be careful about how you use it," he says, "because sometimes it will turn people off. The thing is, you come out to see Cowboy Mouth to celebrate your ass off. People can take from that what they want." The band, he says, "is just trying to translate that love, that feeling, that communication to other people."

Which is exactly what its members hope to be doing on its current tour across the United States: pushing a few buttons and helping listeners change through the power of music. But, LeBlanc, notes, even the musically impaired can make the sort of changes he himself made years ago.

"People can find that same switch through any means," he notes: "It doesn't have to be music. People just have to find that part of themselves that tells them they're special. That part that the world might have tried to kick down and might have succeeded in kicking down. The whole idea is to awaken that happy monster inside each and every one of us."

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