A Chicago band known for its muddy work boots, anarchic stage shows and fondness for committing musical 'pure butchery' (the New York Times' words, not ours) may seem an odd match for the stylish craft and classicism of a Nashville songwriting treasure, but that's just what came to be on the new album Great Chicago Fire. Great Chicago Fire is a happy collaboration borne out of label mates, Paul Burch, a progenitor of the '90s Nashville Lower Broad scene, and the Waco Brothers, the Lenin-esque statue in the Square where the avenues of punk, country and rockn- roll intersect, sharing pitchers of Guerro's margaritas in Austin, TX at SXSW.
Maybe it was the salt, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the parade of cowboy boot shoppers and industry moguls passing before their eyes on South Congress Avenue, but two distinct creative energies decided to explore what music they could make together. Sharing songwriting, performing and production credits, it's the Wacos' first new material since 2005's Freedom and Weep and puts Paul's voice at the front and center of their mighty sonic assault; it's a willing collision of energy and ideas, of different voices, possibilities and permutations. It turns out that the rawness and rowdiness of the Waco Brothers, so at home in the blue collar and punk rock dives of Chicago, shares an emotional camaraderie with the traditionally minded and archetypal stories and songs Nashville's Paul Burch has skillfully produced in his career, with both styles benefiting in surprising ways.
The anthemic bluster of the Wacos, exemplified on the title song--with the whiff of T. Rex in its grooves--adds muscle to the thoughtful eloquence of the Burch penned 'Monterey' and the galloping 'Transfusion Blues,' while the Appalachian echoes in 'Up On The Mountain' move from the holler to the pub.
On the flipside, Jon Langford's jittery first-wave punk urgency on 'Cannonball' is tempered by Burch's deft touch with the piano and hand jive percussion; don't even get us waxing about the tremolo guitar and those saucy sweet backing vocals by Tawney Newsome and Bethany Thomas. With Burch's inborn pop leanings as a polestar, the Wacos show they not be all fistfight energy, as with their closing time wistfulness on the gorgeous and lush 'Flight to Spain.' Similarly, Deano's meaty hooks and rust belt lyricism on 'Give In' and 'On The Sly' would fit right in at the Nashville watering hole shrine Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. Wrapping it all up with the sun's about to come up and it's time to go home giddiness of a night spent jamming with friends is a bleary and joyful singalong version of Bob Dylan's 'Hard Rain's Gonna Fall.'
The Waco Brothers, in case you haven't been paying attention are the tireless Jon Langford (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Skull Orchard), Steve Goulding (Mekons, PVC, Graham Parker & the Rumour), Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones), Deano (Dollar Store, Wreck), Tracy Dear (World's Greatest Living Englishman) and Joe Camarillo (Hushdrops). Through eight albums on Bloodshot, the Wacos have blurred the line between country and punk with music brimming with grim romanticism, and joyous, near ecstatic, drunken stomps. Paul Burch and his fabulous WPA Ballclub released two albums on BS, as well as several compilation tracks-- including a duet with the legendary Ralph Stanley.
His most recent album, the self-released Words of Loves: Songs of Buddy Holly made USA Today's Top 10 'Pick of the Week.' Paul has collaborated with artists in every musical genre including Mark Knopfler, Ralph Stanley, Lambchop, Exene Cervenka, Beverly Knight, and Vic Chesnutt, and joined Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello, and George Jones on a GRAMMYnominated album by Charlie Louvin. Burch also served as music consultant to the PBS film 'The Appalachians' and composed Last of My Kind, a soundtrack to Tony Earley's New York Times bestseller 'Jim the Boy.'
"I’ve never been able to find a live band in New York as consistently thrilling and funny and fun as the Waco Brothers." —Author and former Chicagoan Sarah Vowell interview on the Chicagoist.
You've heard of the crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil?
Well, the Wacos race towards the crossroads of punk and country, heedless of speed limits and stop signs. The collisions spectacular, loud, energizing and sometimes messy. We've seen them a two hundred and forty six times, and the Waco Brothers never fail to entertain. Subtlety is for the weak, so they've chosen the path of optimum mayhem and tomfoolery. In their rollicking career, they have been called everything from the flagship act of the alternative country "movement" to pure butchery. Both are likely to be correct, even within one evening.
Let's let singer/guitarist Jon Langford describe the nexus of punk and country:
"It's so direct and honest, it's almost painful ... All the songs are about sex and death and drinking. If you listen to early George Jones, it's simple, three-chord stuff where the subject is everyday life ... It could be the Buzzcocks."
Indeed. They can be political, they can be personal, and sometimes there is no difference. But the Wacos never let politics get in the way of the next round.
The Wacos formed as a way to bang out country music covers, cage free beers out of friendly tavern owners and to provide a respite from their other bands. Their early shows at long-shuttered Chicago watering holes like the Augenblick and Jimmy and Tai's Wrigleyville Tap are like crazy fever dreams from another time. Who'd a thunk they'd become an institution?
The line-up, in case you haven't been paying attention: Jon Langford (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts), Steve Goulding (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Graham Parker & the Rumour), Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones, Dollar Store), Deano (Dollar Store, Wreck), and Tracy Dear (World's Greatest Living Englishman). Often filling in for Goulding on the Wacos' Midwestern jaunts is Joe Camarillo (Hushdrops).
When the Wacos hit the stage, they play as if their lives depend on it. Their shows at SXSW and CMJ are legendary, and every year threaten to actually collapse under the weight of their runaway brilliance. If you're not drunk, sweaty, and exhilarated at the end of one of their shows, then brother, we pity you. You might want to get back to the safety of that couch of yours.
They are working to save music so you don't have to.
Official Website: Waco Brothers Online