Time-honored country-punk formula of Half-Cash/Half-Clash, with the sound turned way up and the polish way, way down.— Rolling Stone
The Waco Brothers have been standing at the corner of punk urgency and Three-Chords-And-The-Truth country for 20 years now. They started at a time when it was deemed patently absurd to mix the two types of music, but the Wacos knew the score; they are different sides of the same coin, the personal wrapped in the political. And instead of travelling calculated creative boulevards during their career, the Waco Brothers have explored dark alleys and winding gravel paths through nine releases, all with the headlights off and the pedal to the metal, worrying (or not worrying) about end results later. With a body of work known for the indelicate and raucous, this may be their most deliberate and punchy yet—no one’s more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. The title can be read two different ways, after all.
With a devil-may-care attitude towards polish and finesse, Going Down in History captures the thrill ride rush of the Waco Brothers’ live shows. Through the improvisational and fluid approach they adopted at Chicago’s Kingsize Sound Labs with longtime collaborator Mike Hagler at the knobs, the songs took on a muscularity and cohesiveness of an album unlike any previous Wacos recordings. Their pioneering Cash-meets-Clash jet engine mash up is still there, to be sure, but the Wacos have turned their well-scuffed boot heels towards their roots as never before. They have gone back to the future, down in history to celebrate and transform that which came before them.
Going Down in History pulses with the energy and excitement of first wave garage punk and ‘70s glam that first captivated singer/guitarist Jon Langford (Mekons, Skull Orchard, Pine Valley Cosmonauts). “We Know It” and “Building Our Own Prison” are distorted T. Rex via Bo Diddley-beat punk that will get you grooving towards the end times. “Receiver,” a gritty pub crawl from Wire to Dead Weather, and the short-circuiting grind of “Devil’s Day” harken back to singer/guitarist Deano’s time in the Chicago noise rock scene with his band Wreck. The raspy, push and pull tension of the title track, with its hard-learned life credo “you gotta walk before you can fall down on your face” might make it the Patron Song of Lost Causes. At the heart of the record is the Small Faces’ “All or Nothing,” a liberating, sing-to-the-skies rock and roll masterpiece, brimming with jagged guitars, booming drums and rousing organ. Ian McLagan, The Faces’ keyboardist (who died in 2014), was both hero and friend to the Wacos, and the song is permanently dedicated to him. Wrapping up the album is a cover of Texas songwriting ace Jon Dee Graham’s “Orphan Song,” cementing the Wacos’ cosmic link between Chicago and Austin.
With an improbable longevity, an impeccable rock and roll resume, and a go-for-broke live personae that can distract from the sharpness of their subject matters, it can be easy to take the Wacos for granted. But what was true at the beginning of the siege remains so today: in these fraught times, no one’s out there writing and performing with the political and personal so intertwined. Like a strange, colorful and possibly poisonous toad that lies dormant in the mud of an Amazonian rain forest, only to emerge when it seems like it’s necessary, the Waco Brothers are back, and, perhaps, we need them now more than ever.
ABOUT THE WACO BROTHERS
Waco Brothers are a five-piece, mostly Chicago based band consisting of Dean Schlabowske and Joe Camarillo - both Dollar Store band members - and three British expats: Jon Langford (Mekons, Skull Orchard, Pine Valley Cosmonauts), Tracey Dear, and Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones). The group’s most recent releases include Waco Express: Live & Kickin’ at Schuba’s Tavern (2008), Great Chicago Fire(2012), and Cabaret Showtime (2015) – respectively, a live recording, a joint project with Nashville songwriter Paul Burch, and a limited-quantity b-sides and covers album. Going Down in History is the group’s first formal studio album since 2005’sFreedom and Weep. Waco Brothers were initially forged in the mid-1990s as an outlet for rowdy live performances and to celebrate Chicago’s burgeoning country scene, and have since put out seminal, genre-defining albums, including To the Last Dead Cowboy, Cowboy in Flames, and others.
"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
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 three 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). On drums the past few years has been Joe Camarillo (Hushdrops).
With an improbable longevity, an impeccable rock and roll resume, and a go-for-broke live personae that can distract from the sharpness of their subject matters, it can be easy to take the Wacos for granted. But what was true at the beginning of the siege remains so today: in these fraught times, no one’s out there writing and performing with the political and personal so intertwined. Like a strange, colorful and possibly poisonous toad that lies dormant in the mud of an Amazonian rain forest, only to emerge when it seems like it’s necessary, the Waco Brothers are needed more than ever.
They are working to save music so you don't have to.
Official Website: Waco Brothers Online