Pat Todd is no punk. Sure, he fronted the Lazy Cowgirls for over two decades, a stocky, balding fireplug whose nasal, twangy bark gave the post-Ramones riffs of their early albums a razor-wire edge. But as the years went on, the music tempered raw aggression with bar-band hooks and something like … maturity. Acoustic guitars could be heard as early as 1999’s Rank Outsider, and by their final album, 2004’s I’m Goin’ Out and Get Hurt Tonight, pedal-to-the-metal ragers like “Burnin’ Daylight” and the title track were balanced by mournful laments like “Suicide Note” and a bluesy reworking of “Goddamn Bottle,” from 1987’s Tapping the Source.

“To me, Hank Williams and Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones and of course the New York Dolls and the Ramones and even Merle Haggard —  anyone who’s honest and talks about living and dying and doesn’t sugarcoat everything… they’re punk in some small way,” says Todd. “But as far as what’s thought of as punk, no, we’re not.”

Almost as soon as he disbanded the Cowgirls, Todd formed the Rankoutsiders and got right back to work. “I had all this stuff built up and I thought, some people, they look at you and they think, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and the truth is that wasn’t even close to being it,” he says. “I was more inspired than ever, so I just wanted to come out with a lot of really good stuff, and this all made sense to go together.”

“This” was 2007’s The Outskirts of Your Heart, a 28-track double CD that included blazing rock & roll, stomping blues, reflective country-tinged ballads and high lonesome vocal harmonies. It was immediately clear that Todd and his bandmates — many of them Cowgirls alumni — had more in common with the Blasters or latter-day Social Distortion than Bad Religion, and that’s been the case ever since. Outskirts was followed a year later by Holdin’ Onto Trouble’s Hand, which offered 20 more songs as potent as their predecessors. Each album (the brand-new The Past Came Callin’ is the band’s fifth) has moved a little bit farther from raw aggression, and toward a synthesis of all his influences. And while Todd has always been a surprisingly poetic lyricist, he’s only gotten better. Songs like “Run” and “A New Pair of Eyes,” from The Past Came Callin’, are welcome additions to his deep catalog of no-bullshit tales of working class life, love and loss.

“I want every record to be as good if not better than the last one,” he says. “That’s the way I judge things. If it isn’t inspired, it doesn’t even get written. There should be a world between the lines of every song,” he says. “That’s what you would love to do.

“Also, you don’t want to be pretentious about it,” he adds. “You want to have a hard-boiled view of the world, but you shouldn’t be afraid to have an open heart within that hard-boiled thing. You don’t want to get sentimental, but there’s nothing wrong with true sentiment.”

The Past Came Callin’ is the perfect title for the new album, since Todd dug deep when selecting the material. The first of its 14 tracks, “If Only I Could Fly Backwards in Time” was written nearly 15 years ago, while “Yeah, Ya Had a Bad Night” is over 20. The record also includes covers of the folk song “Down in Old Boerne” and soul singer William Bell’s “Any Other Way,” and one realsurprise from the defiantly anti-nostalgic Todd: a re-recording of the Lazy Cowgirls’ “Somewhere Down the Line.”

“We had started doing that live,” he says, “with a little extra harmony guitar playing, and with a little better vocals, just ’cause we had more singers — there are a couple little touches where Kevin and I sing harmony which makes it poignant, and it just became a part of who we are and what we did. And I wrote the song, so I can do what I want with it.”

Make no mistake, though: you shouldn’t come to one of the Rankoutsiders’ fiery live shows expecting to hear a bunch of Lazy Cowgirls tunes. “I don’t want to take the easy way out,” Todd says. “I don’t want to patronize the crowd or anybody who wants me to do something.” Indeed, for him it’s about something even more elemental than that. “You probably don’t hang out with all your grade school friends, or people you knew in high school or college,” he says. “You move forward, you keep going and you grow. I think it’s inevitable, and to say that you don’t change is a fool’s game.”

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders play with The Stingrays, The Dogs and Just Head at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 15 at Cafe NELA.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.