Chicago Tribune Review
April 23, 2012|By Chrissie Dickinson, Special to the Tribune
The Chicago-based Waco Brothers bring the scruffy Sturm und Drang to country-punk. Nashville’s Paul Burch is a precise song craftsman. These label-mates on Chicago indie Bloodshot Records recently got together for a collaborative album. So what happens when a flame-thrower and a laser beam meet in a recording studio?
The result, “Great Chicago Fire” (Bloodshot), drops Tuesday. To celebrate the new release, the Waco Brothers — comprised of Jon Langford, Steve Goulding, Alan Doughty, Deano, Tracy Dear and Joe Camarillo — and Burch perform a record release show Thursday at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.
“Great Chicago Fire” is a bracing, wickedly smart CD that draws on the strengths of both acts. “It brings those things together: Paul’s craftiness and our brawn,” says Langford about the collaboration.
Burch — a critically-acclaimed artist whose fans and collaborators have included bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, singer-guitarist Mark Knopfler and the novelist Tony Earley — concurs: “Playing with the Wacos is like being on a jet engine.”
Indeed. This collaboration roars out of the gate on the first cut. “Did you ever get the feelin’ that you’ve been cheated?” Langford and Burch sing together on the title track, echoing a sentiment from the Sex Pistols’Johnny Rotten. It’s a gloriously insistent punk-pop rocker, a wall of buzzing, reverbed guitars, rumbling bass, punching drums and doubled-up vocals.
Burch, Langford, Dear and Deano split lead vocal duties, with Burch taking the majority. The music swirls with punk, first-generationrock ‘n’ roll, surf, country and pop at various points throughout, a sound that speaks to the combined influences of these two acts.
There are gems galore here, including the loose, rollicking “Wrong Side of Love”; the bittersweet beauty of “Flight to Spain”; the punkish two-step “Cannonball.” Under the raw mix of “Monterey” are the sweet, Tex-Mex strains of vintage Marty Robbins. The band’s raw-boned take on Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is punk filtered through Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”
The Wacos and Burch pull off a nifty trick on “Great Chicago Fire”: If the Rolling Stones were still making great records, this would be it.
Burch first appeared on Langford’s radar in the 1990s, when Langford stopped by the Northwestern University radio station, WNUR, to play some songs on the Southbound Train roots music show. During the course of the show, the disc jockey played a track from one of Burch’s earlier albums. Langford sat up and took note.
The two men first met at the South by Southwest music festival in 1996. Burch, then recording for the Chicago label Checkered Past, was playing a solo gig at the German beer house Scholz Garten. Langford was in the audience.
“Paul looked very resplendent,” says Langford. “He was wearing a big white suit and white hat. I had a few drinks, so I sort of rushed up to him, and he looked shocked and horrified.”
Burch confirms the cute meet. “I remember Jon coming up to me, slightly pissy, and putting his arm around me, possibly giving me a kiss, and saying, ‘You know, I thought you were going to be awful. I heard about this guy named Paul Burch, and he’s doing honky-tonk, and I knew I was going to hate it. But I loved it.’”
Burch later caught the Wacos at a live gig. “I stood there and thought, This is the greatest rock and roll band I’ve ever seen.”
A friendship was born.
“I was really pissed off with the idea that most Nashville country music seemed to ignore its past,” Langford says. “But I really didn’t like bands that just imitated the past. It seemed like Paul struck this perfect balance between taking what was good in classic country and western, but made it sound like it was happening right now. He did that really effortlessly.”
The admiration went both ways. “Once you meet Jon, you never forget him,” says Burch. “He’s like a big light bulb. I find him very inspiring, and I loved him right away.”
“Paul is a crafty songwriter who understands history,” says Langford. “I think what we do is incredibly different. I’m more of an old punk from Wales. Paul has been sort of painstaking on his records, and that works for him. We sort of get in the studio and bash out a load of stuff. We have some sort of faith in the voodoo process of the Wacos.”