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With a new album, a new label and a national tour, Los Angeles punk-rock legends the Lazy Cowgirls seem to be making a major comeback. But there's something wrong with this picture--because the band never really left. "We keep reading about how we broke up," says Cowgirls vocalist/ frontman Pat Todd, laughing. "Of course, that's not true at all. But then, the rest of the world doesn't live here in Los Angeles, so they don't know what we've been up to. Since about 1993, we've just been playing around L.A. and the West Coast, waiting for the right deal to come along. We're still alive and well, though."

It's easy to see why the Cowgirls' fans may have believed otherwise: Ragged Soul, the group's scorching new release (on New York's Crypt/Matador imprint) is its first in five years--a lifetime for most acts. But most pop musicians don't age quite as gracefully as Todd and the rest of the Girls (guitarists D.D. Weekday and Michael Leigh, bassist Leonard Keringer and drummer Ed "Stewball" Huerta). Twelve years, seven albums and a mountain of singles later, these brass-knuckled rabble-rousers demonstrate with Soul that they can still rupture spleens with the best of them. The disc touches on virtually every good thing that has happened in rock and roll since Jerry Lee Lewis turned the world on to his great balls of fire, including Dead Boys snottiness ("I Can't Be Satisfied"), Rolling Stones raunch ("Who You Callin' Slut?") and MC5 machismo ("I Can Almost Remember"). Still, the end result is pure Cowgirls: lean, soulful, and as abrupt as an ice pick through the forehead.

Despite these stylistic choices, though, Todd insists his passion for music extends far beyond the four-chord chaos of the Sex Pistols. "I love Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Little Richard, Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams, Jimmy Rogers--the list goes on and on. They've all inspired me. But they inspire me to be as good as they were, not to copy them. One of the reasons I like all those people is that they're all individuals. They brought themselves to their music. To me, that's the most important thing. You have to work yourself into your music. Too many bands try to rewrite Ramones songs or Iggy songs, or whoever. But all those bands had their own identity in the first place. That's what made them special. I think a lot of bands today tend to forget that."

Likewise, Todd and his helpers have motivated a slew of fledgling rockers over the years, including the New Bomb Turks and the Flesheaters' Chris D., who produced the Cowgirls' second album, Tapping the Source. Underground-music mogul Long Gone John also owes the Cowgirls a debt of gratitude. He's the owner of the Sympathy for the Record Industry imprint, which has released material by such prominent performers as Rocket From the Crypt, Blonde Redhead and the Geraldine Fibbers. But he might never have gotten into the music business were it not for the Lazy Cowgirls, whose third long-player, Radio Cowgirl, was the company's inaugural release. "We had a live recording of a radio broadcast that we were going to release, but the deal fell through," Todd remembers. "John heard about it, and he came up to us at a show and told us, `I'd start a record label if I could make you my first release.' So we did it. Because of us, I guess you could say, he started Sympathy. It's just that simple."

Equally fond of the Cowgirls' distinctive sound is Crypt Records founder Tim Warren, the man best known for aiding and abetting the careers of such heavy-duty acts as the Devil Dogs and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A longtime Girls admirer, Warren signed the group last year--but Todd notes that it was mutual respect, not a contract, that really brought them together. "When Tim found out we weren't signed to Sympathy, he made us an offer. At the time, we had been shopping around at other labels, and we were beginning to feel like, `Why should we have to try to convince anyone to be our friend or to like us?' We just want to be ourselves, you know what I mean? So we called him up and said, `Let's do it.'

"Tim's one of the few people out there who basically just puts out only stuff that he likes," he adds. "He wants to do what he wants to do, and that's exactly how we feel about things."

If that's the case, fans can expect to hear plenty more from the Lazy Cowgirls in the years to come. Although they're currently in the midst of their first U.S. tour since 1990, the players are also pulling together material for their next record, which they hope to release early next year. After half a decade in hibernation, Todd claims that the Cowgirls are raring to get back on the horse again. "We realize that we won't be around forever," he concedes. "So we want to do the best work we can, as fast as we can. That way, we can leave as much as we can behind. It's our legacy, you know. You have to leave your little mark in any way you can."

The Lazy Cowgirls, with the Cosmic Psychos. 9 p.m. Sunday, November 26, the Raven, 2217 Welton.