BY MICHAEL TOLAND
If there’s a single artist who embodies the virtues of playing meat-and-potatoes rock & roll in the 21st century, it’s Pat Todd. The former Lazy Cowgirl not only never lost his love for the pioneers – and we’re talking about Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and the Ramones here – he’s never seen any reason not to draw from all of them at once. His band the Rankoutsiders, which includes ex-Cowgirls and is anchored by stalwart guitarist Nicky Alexander, perfectly embodies his vision of earthy American music, cleaving fiercely by his side no matter what turn he takes.
Todd is also one of the few songwriters of his generation that knows how to pen mature tunes about adult concerns without stinting on youthful rock & roll fury, and that alone puts him on a different plane than most ex-punk rockers. “Back to the Wind,” “Carry’n a Torch” and “Known to Stumble/Known to Fall” wax philosophic on a life in rock with age rapidly catching up, while the band obeys the loud fast rules. “All the Years” and “No End in Sight” follow a similar theme with a more overt country feel – if Nashville had any balls it would put these songs in rotation amongst its cowboy-hatted puppets. “Didn’t Have Ta Die” takes a hero (the liner notes mention Elvis Presley, though it could apply to any fallen angel) to task while still maintaining respect. The bitter ballads “I Won’t Forgive You” and “You & Your Damn Dream” eschew romance for rejection buoyed by dignity. A remake of Todd’s own “One More Tank of Gas” dials back the power but ups the emotional payoff in the demand “If you find some kind of love/Better hold on to it.”
Todd and the band hit a dizzying peak with “Dirty Thoughts & Busted Hearts,” a comment on the marketing of desire and the futility thereof that still kicks out the jams with a melodic rage that makes younger punks sound weak. It’s damn near the quintessential Rankoutsiders track, the light at the end of a tunnel that, no matter how long, never drowns in darkness. If the best (adult) rock & roll burns with both passion and intelligence, then Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders’ flame can be seen for miles.
DOWNLOAD: “Dirty Thoughts & Busted Hearts,” “Known to Stumble/Known to Fall,” “You & Your Damn Dream”