By the time a pair of ne’er-do-well Hoosier punks rechristened themselves Axl and Izzy and headed west to the promised land, the core of Vincennes, Indiana’s Lazy Cowgirls had already blazed that trail, absorbing many of the same substances (both aurally and otherwise) while retaining the ingrained grittiness and knee-jerk bad attitude that marks ’em as true punks. The quartet’s self-titled debut is a near-perfect crystallization of everything that was right about pre-Anglomaniac p**k: the Dictators’ fuck-’em-if-they-can’t-take-a-joke mentality, the Dolls’ loving R&B butchery and (most importantly) the Ramones’ strum und bang “subtlety.” On the first Cowgirls album, “Time” and “Drugs” are especially brudder-like in their eloquently monosyllabic exploration of said subjects.
Realizing that a repeat performance might brand them as nostalgists, combined with a bit of bonding with speed-poet auteur Chris D., the Cowgirls were pushed to create their masterwork — the amphetaminized Tapping the Source. The bitterness that lurks just beneath Allen Clark’s hyperspeed Sandy Nelson beats makes songs like “Heartache” and “Goddamn Bottle” (perhaps the finest cry-in-your-suds punk tune ever) truly affecting. This no-hope factory-town blues just can’t be learned; the Cowgirls are steeped in it.
Third Time’s the Charm (which features a side-splitting interview with the band) is a bit flat but, even when the music veers towards standard hardcore structures, there’s layers of subtext (about only the most pressing subjects, of course: liquor, cheatin’ and the Christian conversion of Larry Flynt).
Notable as the first release on Sympathy for the Record Industry, a prolific label that repeatedly attests to the huge impact Todd and company have had on their city’s punk scene, Radio Cowgirl documents one of the band’s legendary excessive live sets (minus the sorely missed visual aspect of the diminutive and balding dervish frontman Pat Todd). It boasts chafing-at-the-bit covers of the Saints’ “Know Your Product,” the Ramones’ “Carbona Not Glue,” Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” and the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” as well as such tasteful originals as “Meat Shop.” The CD reissue adds eight studio tracks, including songs by the New York Dolls (“Who Are the Mystery Girls”) and Kinks (“This Is Where I Belong”).
How It Looks — How It Is never downshifts from overdrive, but the wheels are often left spinning. Generic blitzkrieg bops like “Teenage Frankenstein” and “Sex Kittens Compare Scratches” are conceptually hackneyed and musically shopworn. Then again, Todd’s sneering delivery alone can carry hate missives like the title track, “Alienation Maybe,” “Cheap Shit,” the very Pagans-like “D.I.E. in Indiana” and other testimonials to the desperate life. The subsequent CD edition adds a remixed version of the Australian Third Time’s the Charm EP, minus the interview that originally accompanied the five tracks. The sound on Third Time’s the Charm is inferior to the band’s other stuff, but completists won’t care.
Resurfacing a half-decade later with a second guitarist and a new rhythm section, the Cowgirls unexpectedly delivered their masterpiece — and best shot at commercial success — with Ragged Soul. Co-produced by Earle Mankey, this wonderful blast boasts cleaner, more dynamic sound without sacrificing any of the rough’n’ready urgency. Angst eruptions like “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Frustration, Tragedy & Lies” and the almost radio-friendly “Who You Callin’ a Slut?” are simply magnificent, with new drummer Ed “Stewball” Huerta making a deft, explosive contribution. Long may they ride.