Album Review: Going Down in History by Waco Brothers
Very Good, Based on 9 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
"This is the first track from the last album." With these words, the Waco Brothers kick off their tenth studio album, 2016's Going Down in History. It hardly sounds like the work of a band throwing in the towel. However, it does sound leaner and harder than their best-known work, as if hard times are wearing away at their honky tonk veneer. Steel guitarist Mark Durante has left the band, and Jon Langford and Dean Schlabowske responded by beefing up their six-string work.
First album in 11 years from the Clash-meet-Cash-styled crew. From The Mekons through The Three Johns, stopping off with The Pine Valley Cosmonauts and Skull Orchard, Welsh wonder Jon Langford has been in more world-shaking bands than most.. ADVERTISING
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In 1985, The Mekons recorded what many consider to be the first alt-country album. Fear and Whiskey captured the bandâ€™s love for American county, back when that wasnâ€™t something that sent many music fans recoiling in fear, without losing any of their punk rock passion or leftist political views. Front man Jon Langford would start The Waco Brothers in the mid-nineties as a way to keep playing this genre of music while The Mekons focused on a more punk/post-punk sound.
After a blistering run of seven records in the late 1990s and the early part of this century, it's been over a decade since Chicago's best bar band last recorded an album. In the long interim, the Waco Brothers — one of the signature bands of the "insurgent country" thing, a self-conscious mashing up of punk and traditional country music — have continued to play their hugely entertaining shows to dedicated fans across North America, released a raucous live album and served as backing band to Paul Burch. Kicking their legs high into the air (in unison, sort of!), the Waco Bros have always made up for what they lacked in songcraft with utterly winning showmanship.
There’s no mistaking this latest Waco Brothers release for anything but another blast of fury from this mighty unit, but there’s a renewed energy in these grooves, a muscular throb that calls to mind a merging of the old (T. Rex, Wire) and new (Bo Diddley, Dead Weather) worlds, an excitement that feels like gritty Los Angeles in 1982 at a club where X and the Blasters take to the stage and thrust their collective might upon the people and begin leading a revolution that leads to an equal respect for Johnny Cash and Johnny Thunders. That all happens in the first couple minutes of the record which, by the way, happen much faster than the minutes experienced by average bands and average fans.
The Mekons could have easily ridden out an entire career off the energy of their grimy start in the Leeds art-school scene. Instead, when they started anew following a brief hiatus in the early '80s, frontman and co-founder Jon Langford chose to train their gaze across the pond, led by the spirit guides of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Their next album, 1985’s Fear and Whiskey, didn’t just execute a brilliant and unlikely-seeming stylistic merger, it ushered in a whole new generation of imitators, acolytes, and even icons.
Since bursting into 1978 with The Mekons (Where Were You is one of punk’s most overlooked anthems), Jon Langford has charted a more wayward, but ultimately rewarding course than many of his contemporaries, ending up in the thick of Chicago’s alternative country scene as he continued leading a reformed Mekons while developing close ties with the city’s Bloodshot Records. 20 years ago, Langford formed the Waco Brothers with Chicago musicians to exercise his escalating fixation with country music in a punk-fuelled Cash-meets-Clash outfit. Although they’ve released nine albums, this is their first studio set since 2005’s Freedom And Weep, showing the band on fighting form as they charge through raucous missives such as Building Our Own Prison, Devil’s Day and the title track with unfettered gusto.
It’s been about four years since cow punks The Waco Brothers, side project for the Mekons’ Jon Langford, have out put a record and damn if you didn’t realize how badly you needed new music from them until you heard it. Going Down In History is pretty much what you’d expect from the genre veterans; catchy three-chord country with some distorted guitars and plenty of punk rock attitude and smart ass lyrics. The opener, “DIYBOB” pretty much sets the stage and could be our new national anthem if Donald Trump wins the election.
The Waco Brothers — Going Down in History (Bloodshot)Photo by Paul BeatyAfter four years of sleeping off their last country punk rampage, the Paul Burch assisted Great Chicago Fire, the Waco Brothers are back, red-eyed and unrepentant. Lock up your hard liquor, because they are as committed as a band of lifers can be to a rowdy, guitar-clashing, country-warbling sound, but not immune, all the same, to the idea that it may be a little ridiculous, what they are doing, still, after all these years. This is a band that can be completely in the moment, completely engaged in burning the roadhouse down, while also self-aware enough to view the whole enterprise cock-eyed, through a mordant, seen-it-all lens.