In The Honky Tonk Shadows
Johnson To Jones
Blink Of An Eye
Just No Way
New Deal Blues
I’m A Ghost
For nearly a decade the spirits of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams have been riding aboard the runaway Waco express. Resurrecting all that was good about classic country and recasting it in an idiom of their, the Waco Brothers corroborate that a rich tradition has not fallen on deaf ears. With New Deal, they have again deftly juxtaposed sociopolitical consciousness with joviality, engendering more of the most rockin’ gallows humor for which the band has come to be known. Their raging, foot-thumping honky tonk take on the whimsical “Johnson To Jones,” a song about cradle-robbing (or, rather old-folks’ home robbing), is uproarious. Yet, as the deceptively somber “New Deal Blues” evinces, central is the concern for the common man: “It’s an early retirement/With cake and balloons/See no one here is sure just exactly what you do.” Similar themes are evoked in “The Lie,” whose solemnity is underscored by the wail of the pedal steel. It is this urgency of the human condition that has been long ignored by the glittery inanity of Nashville country… I mean pop.
The Waco Brothers refuse to play by the rules of the industry, whether mainstream or underground. In fact, it was this shared disillusionment with the rules of the game that propagated the band. While “alt.country” has become a generic signifier that encapsulates almost any band that proffers punk attitude with country sensibilities, the Waco Brothers seem a bit suspicious of such pigeonholing. In order to be even somewhat convincing, it takes a little more than a cowboy hat and some “yee-ha.” Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Waco Brothers make use of a more diverse musical palette, invoking the roots of tradition without being derivative or maudlin. “New Moon” is a straight up blues tune that keeps the listener’s head steadily nodding to its languid tempo. As the album’s first song
“Poison” (which features the “strident” vocal harmonies of Stacy Earle) avows: “Well, it’s time to pour poison where the crystal waters flow/Time to break wind where your shrinking violets grow…” Or, as what could easily be the band’s mission statement, “AFC” proclaims: “Alcohol, Freedom and a country song/I’ve been waiting way too long.” With country music (alt.country included) in such a dire state, New Deal offers a honky tonk interpretation of Cartesian theory: tear it down, only to build it up again.
JON LANGFORD’S DEAL
by Jesse Fox Mayshark
PopMatters Music Critic
In some ways, it’s a lousy time to be a politically astute left-wing rock ‘n’ roller. Even in the wake of the biggest corporate meltdowns in history, the money men are still driving everything from fuel efficiency standards to foreign policy to the Top 40. The only honest liberal left in the United States Senate just died in a plane crash. John Ashcroft is reading your e-mail. Yup, things are grim.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to be Jon Langford. At once the most committed and least didactic of agit-rockers, the burly Welshman has responded to the gloom of 2002 with customary brio. He doesn’t mind cursing the darkness, but he’s also lit enough candles for a midnight Mass. He followed this summer’s release of the anti-death-penalty compilation Executioner Songs, which he produced, with OOOH!, the latest release from his longtime outfit the Mekons. And on the heels of a celebrated 25th anniversary Mekons tour (culminating in a three-night stand in New York City, with every night dedicated to a different phase of the band’s meandering career), he’s back with his other band, the Waco Brothers. Their sixth album, New Deal Blues, landed in late October to some of the best
reviews of the Wacos’ career. So how does he do it all?
Speaking by phone from the Chicago studio where he paints (he paints too, did I mention that?), Langford gives the verbal equivalent of a shrug. “It’s
what I do, for one thing,” he says. “And we didn’t have an album out for about 18 months. We didn’t have anything out from September 2000 on.” He’s also quick to point out that, despite the tendency to see him as first among equals, all of his projects are full collaborations. There are three other singer-writers in the Mekons (Tom Greenhalgh, Rico Bell and the magnificent Sally Timms), and two in the Waco Brothers (Deano Schlabowske and Tracey Dear). And given the cult status of both, Langford’s hardly worried about flooding the market. “I don’t really think about that,” he says — albums are done when they’re done.
The Waco Brothers have often been seen as a hobby band, but it’s a view Langford resists — not least because he actually spends more time with the Wacos than the Mekons. “It’s my Chicago band, you know,” he says, referring to his adopted hometown. “It’s the main thing we do in town. The Mekons don’t get together more than once a year.”
Since their 1995 debut, the Waco Brothers have become a Windy City mainstay — they were one of the charter bands on the alt.country indie label Bloodshot (one of the most important stables for that ill-defined genre), and Langford has served as an affable mentor to a number of regional acts. On a recent episode of public radio’s This American Life (also based in Chicago) Langford used the “musicians wanted” classified ads in a local paper to put together an impromptu band (including a theremin player) and recorded a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
His congenital prankishness notwithstanding, Langford takes his music seriously — including the music of the Waco Brothers, who have been around long enough now to shake off any notions of honkytonk novelty. Langford sounds pleased to note that prominent critics like Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus (both longtime Mekons fans) have praised the Wacos. “Over the last few albums, I think people have taken us more seriously as a band, and not just a side project with me and a couple of my stooges in Chicago,” he says.
He’s especially glad for attention paid to Schlabowske, whose Stonesy swagger provides some of the high points on New Deal. “I find his songs endless fascinating,” Langford says. “He comes up with stuff I don’t expect.”
The album is a ragged, rollicking slab of gristle and sawdust, with — as the title indicates — a keen sense of its time and place. The de facto title track, “New Deal Blues,” surveys the current economic landscape with a withering eye. The song starts out with the lines, “Going out of business / Everything must go”, and it only gets more dire from there. “We’ve got another New Deal now,” Langford says, “but it’s not like the old New Deal.”
This time around, the cards aren’t evenly distributed. “America, I don’t know,” he continues, “for reasons I don’t understand it seems to be surging back to the right. How Bush can be so popular at a time when his cronies have been bleeding the fucking country dry . . . ”
Not all the tracks on New Deal are so pointed; there are lost loves and new moons and towns with no heart. But there is an overall sense of defiance. If
the clampdown is coming, the Wacos aren’t going quietly. “Time to break wind where your shrinking violets grow,” Langford sneers on the conservative-baiting “Poison”. Elsewhere, the Wacos promise to “pump some new blood through the veins / Of cowboy hats and leather boys”. That effort is helped considerably by freewheeling performances and production that gets close to sounding like a juke-joint P.A. system. Langford says most of the songs were done in one or two takes. “There’s a lot about the band as a live band that I think is one of our strengths,” he says. “I think people have
sometimes been a little disappointed with our records, because they haven’t felt that excitement that comes through in the live show. It’s a difficult
thing to capture.”
This time out, the band also sidestepped as much as possible any genre limitations. Although there’s plenty of honky-tonkin’, and one track yearns for “alcohol, freedom and a country song”, the Waco Brothers are really a flat-out rock ‘n’ roll band. “We got a bit bored with the alternative-country thing,” Langford says. “The whole ‘Waco Brothers booze-tinged blah blah blah.’” At the end of the day, Langford seems less interested in what people call the band, or what they hear in the lyrics, than how much fun the whole thing is. “I don’t see the band as really a big message band,” he says. “I think it’s a very entertaining band, and if
people want more, there’s more there.” Even if we’re all going to hell in a sports utility vehicle, Langford maintains a rugged pragmatism about how much you can expect from rock ‘n’ roll. “You have to be realistic about what a pop group can achieve,” he says. “How much good did Live Aid really do in the end? You know, except to rekindle a lot of people’s fucking careers . .
Old Dogs, New Deal
The Waco Brothers are almost impossible to resist. Their rambling, shambling honky-tonk rock ‘n’ roll is so unapologetically derivative and at the same time so heartfelt, all you can do is hoist a longneck beer in appreciation.
The on-again off-again band, one of several projects of Mekons co-founder Jon Langford, is on again with New Deal, their sixth release. As before, we get a collection of Saturday night lives — people down on their luck, up a creek, and trying to make it by on “alcohol, freedom, and a country song”. If anything’s changed, it’s a simple matter of age: where Langford and company’s rawhide rock might have once seemed a tad affected (Langford is, after all, a former art student punk, and Welsh to boot), they now inhabit this domain with the grizzled assurance of a thousand sozzled nights in sawdust bars. They’ve even been declared the unofficial house band of Austin’s SXSW festival.
The astoundingly prolific Langford is much in evidence on New Deal (this is his third album of the year, following the Mekons’ OOOH and an anti-death-penalty compilation under the Pine Valley Cosmonauts rubric — and that’s not counting his painting and art exhibits). But his cohorts Deano Schlabowske and Tracey Dear also chip in with hell-raising tunes and whiskey-tinged vocals. Mekons drummer Steve Goulding is along as usual, and he and bass player Alan Doughty (of Jesus Jones — yes, that Jesus Jones) provide relentless chug-a-lug rhythm. Meanwhile, Mark Durante’s pedal steel makes the weepers weep
like they oughta.
What’s striking about New Deal is how often the Wacos not only call to mind their influences but actually do them proud. Their several Stones rips (”New Moon”, “The Lie”, “New Deal Blues”) are much more convincing descendants of Exile on Main Street than anything Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years. And much of the rest is the kind of punky roots music Joe Strummer has been trying and failing to perfect ever since the Clash imploded. It’s enough to make you wonder if one of the things that has kept Langford and the rest of Mekons’ extended family so energetic for so long is their relative obscurity — success never had a chance to spoil them. (The Mekons’ recent 25th anniversary tour certainly seemed to bear that out — the band may be “old and fat” as
Langford proudly proclaimed from the stage, but they still rock with a conviction that puts most of the junior generation to shame.)
And this being Langford, the raucous sing-alongs on New Deal can’t help but include a little more than your average somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs. The opener, “Poison”, is a shot across the bow of smug techo-conservatism. Langford cannily critiques the insularity of cyber-culture, the way it allows people to hole up in their homes and only communicate with like minds. “Cultures clash and the rules all break and bend”, Langford snarls, “You’re sharing false
notions with your new conservative friends / Riding out on-line from the corner you defend”. His remedy is agreeably uncouth: “Time to break wind where your shrinking violets grow / You’ve got a one-party state of mind / It’s your party, but I don’t want to go”. “New Deal Blues” is a timely tabulation of recessionary hardships, and “The Lie” sounds like it might be about a certain leader of the free world (”A builder of bridges to nowhere / First puppet on the moon / They all call you junior”). Elsewhere, the fare is more traditional: “honky tonk shadows”, ghosts of past loves, losers, and losses. The bottom line is,
there are a lot of people out there in the alt-country realm trying to do this stuff, but few who do it with as much brains or heart as the Waco Brothers.
— 18 October 2002
Waco Brothers, New Deal
Even if I wasn’t predisposed toward ‘em, I’d probably cozy up to the Waco Brothers’ new CD release, New Deal (Bloodshot), after hearing its opening cut. Set to an insistent country blues rhythm, “Poison” contains what can only be a telling put-down of insular blog life:
“You want to make friends but you never leave your home Tapping out a message in the corner on your own. . . You’re sharing false notions with your new conservative friends Riding out on-line from the corner you defend.” Enjoy yer new sheltered life, head Waco Jon Langford is saying to a former club-goer. But none for me, thanx. “It’s your party, but I don’t wanna go. . .”
I’m uncritically fond of the Waco Bros. Three guitarists (Langford, Dean Schlabowske & Mark Durante), mandolin player Tracy Dear and pub rock vet Steve Goulding: true heirs to the wasted rock/country promise of Workingman’s Pigpen, Beggars Banquet Stones plus early Burrito Bros. Look at their tiny pics in the CD booklet and you see a buncha middle-aged wrecks, yowling into their mikes w./ the unrepentant rage of lefties who’ve made it into adulthood neither compromising their beliefs nor their humanity. Just the fact that these guys keep going is enough to make me smile. That they keep getting better ‘n’ better at
their wracked-up squalling is a minor miracle.
Though New Deal opens and closes w./ country poliscreeds – finale “The Lie” would seem to be taking on G.W., the privileged politico (”A builder of bridges to nowhere . . . They all call you junior”) – much of the disc is devoted to the more trad hard times themes of mainstream c-&-w, skewed thru the Wacos’ p.o.ed punk perspective, of course. “New Deal Blues” evokes the new recession: rough and rueful, full of sinuous guitarwork, angry and barely controlled, the kind of song that tells you why onetime punks like Langford would gravitate to this music. “No Heart” is a rockin’ plaint (great pedal steel from Durante) about
struggling in Chicago, the city that’s been the Wacos’ home base from the beginning.
Even the group’s shambollic cover of the Wiley Brothers’ “Johnson to Jones” (first heard by me on Marshall Crenshaw’s seminal anthology, Hillbilly Music, Thank God!) is about marrying someone older for money. Where the original version was smoothly and matter-of-factly sung, the words of a country gigolo, as Deano sings ‘em you can hear the desperation. This guy, you just know, is getting hitched so he can cover a passel of bad checks.
Other offerings, like “Gone In A Blink of An Eye” (happily reminiscent of the Standells’ “Why Pick On Me”), are more obliquely pissed, while a few cuts even venture into busted romanceville (e.g., “I’m A Ghost,” which manages to combine self-pity and Robyn Hitchcockian gothic imagery without compromising either). Through it all, the Wacos’ off-kilter take on 21st century life remains, niggling in the listener’s ear. Even a seemingly innocuous drunkard’s song like “Honky Tonk Shadows” seems to be about more than the usual self-pitying lament thanks to Langford’s Strummer-esque moaning.
Midpoint into the disc, our boys offer a small nugget of cautious optimism, “Better Everyday,” a bouncy country tune w./ a chorus that asserts how much better things have been getting for the singer. Good for you, you think, ’til you realize that the narrator in the song is probably singing from beyond the grave (”Good, better, best/Time I laid this world to rest.”) Ah, those wacky Wacos. Keep on a-rantin’, boys – these days we need ya more than ever!
Everyone’s favourite socialist honky-tonkers are back with New Deal (I guess they don’t have a whole lot of competition in that category) and while it may seem like more of the same, they nevertheless continue to satisfy.
Many of us already know the story – about the Waco Brothers being misplaced Englishmen that somehow found their country hearts in Chicago, Illinois. We all may have expected ruthless parody, but
instead the Wacos have put their political beat to a reverent brand of country that is as earnest as it is accomplished, hitting a high point with 2000’s Electric Waco Chair (an end to the death penalty is a cause close to the band). I mean, hey, they practically invented the notion of insurgent country music.
The band continues to marry their bold statements to musical expertise with New Deal, and prove this right out of the gate with the swaying Poison and with their rollicking statement of purpose in the AFC Song (that would be alcohol, freedom, and a country song of course). To keep things interesting, the Wacos bring an eastern Europe feel to Blink Of
An Eye to great effect and No Heart could very well be the downright catchiest thing the band has ever done.
The band clearly has some fun on their rendition of Johnson To Jones continuing to showcase what a plain-old-good-time the band can be. More arresting, however, is the funky vibe of Just No Way with it’s choppy rhythm and busy bass. The Waco Brothers are simply great musicians, and they can pull such excursions off.
Essential country that’ll hit the spot every time.
Jon Langford is one of the most prolific artists working in alt-country today. His latest effort with the Waco Brothers, “New Deal,” marks the third album he has released this year, along with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts’ “The Executioner’s Last Songs” and “OOOH!” by the Mekons.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Langford substitutes quality for quantity, though – the Waco Brothers are as dependable as any act in rock when it comes to delivering the goods.
Every Waco Brothers album is full of songs loosely divided into two categories: those about drinking and loneliness, and those about murder and politics. “New Deal” is no exception, and every song is a
toe-tapper to boot.
The rollicking hoedown of “In the Honky Tonk Shadows” and the pedal-steel lament of “New Moon” satisfy the drunk-and-lonely quotient, while Langford and co-lead singer (and Muskego native) Dean Schlabowske use “Blink of an Eye” and “The Lie” to criticize the current presidential administration and invoke the murder ballads found on the Cosmonauts’ “The Executioner’s Last Songs.” “Just No Way” is one of the Wacos’ pop detours – Langford seems to be channeling Paul McCartney – and his voice nearly hides the fact that the narrator is a schizophrenic murderer.
In a year when a number of established alt-country acts expanded the genre, with fine results (Wilco, Neko Case, to name two), the Waco Brothers reinforce the if-it-ain’t-broke maxim. “New Deal” is the real deal.
– Stephen Haag, Hartford Courant
What’s this all about???
nte todo hay que ser sinceros, en nuestro país el country nos importa un pimiento, a excepción de la época en que nos metieron hasta en la sopa al vaquero Garth Brooks, pocos artistas ó grupos han triunfado por nuestras tierras. Basta fijarnos en los pocos grupos españoles que se han influenciado de este estilo musical, y cuando alguno lo hace parece que es de cachondeo, hablo por ejemplo de Coyote Dax y su canción del verano ” No rompas mas mi pobre corazón..” con la que la mayoría de consumidores de música de terracita de verano, se ponían las manos enganchadas en los cinturones y meneaban el culito cual gallinas ponedoras, lo más triste es que seguro que se pensarían que el tema era del “gran artista” Coyote, cuando era una versión de un clásico en Estados Unidos como Billy Ray Cyrus… ¡lamentable!
“New Deal” de los Waco Brothers es puro country, aunque a medida que avanza el trabajo se notan otras influencias que van desde la tradición americana, pasando por folk y acabando incluso en rock.
La primera parte del trabajo esta bañada por influencias Nashville pero según van pasando las canciones al Sr. Langford se le va viendo la vena rockera, no en vano empezó en esto con un grupo punk, llamado los Mekons; Así que en “Blink of an eye”, notamos un poco de rock en nuestros oídos, es el caso también de “AFC Song” con cambio de voces y un ritmo mucho más pegadizo, y en “New deal song” que incluso nos recuerda por su voz al mismísimo Mick Jagger, y la composición la podría firmar el gran Tom Petty y es que nos recuerda a la América mas profunda.
El disco te traslada a escenarios de famosas películas americanas, te puedes imaginar dentro de sus bares de carretera, al estilo de “Oh Brothers” ó “Thelma y Louise”, porque hay estilos muy variados, y es
que “New Moan” es un blues autentico y “Just no way” parece un tema de los británicos Beautiful South, con ramalazos Housemartins.
Por lo tanto, aunque no te guste el country, este disco lo puedes escuchar tranquilamente porque contiene muchas mas cosas.
BY STEVE TERRELL
Originally published in The Santa Fe New Mexican on 11/22/2002
New Deal by The Waco Brothers
Only a couple of months after Jon Langford’s “main band” The Mekons released their finest album in who knows how many years — OOOH! (Out of Our Heads), Langford’s “side band” The Waco Brothers have come out with their strongest album since 1997’s Cowboy in Flames.
While Langford may be the prime spiritual force behind the group, the Wacos feature two other good vocalists, Tracy Dear (“The world’s greatest living Englishman”) and Dean Schlabowske and a high-octane band that never ceases to amaze.
The Wacos’ fierce sets at South by Southwest in the past six years have earned them the reputation as an essential part of that spring festival, and in fact one of the finest live bands of this troubled
era. Plus they’ve got to be the world’s most loveable debauched communists.
Like any great live group the Wacos sometimes have difficulty translating their live energy onto studio tracks. However that doesn’t seem to be the case on New Deal. They’re playing like they mean it here and each player is in top form.
Steel guitarist Mark Durante and, on many cuts a guest fiddler identified only as Celine, stand out, emphasizing the “country” in “insurgent country” — a tag coined by Langford.
As the lyrics go in one song, “In the honky tonk shadows, there’s a gleam of light.”
Also Langford and the lads are articulating their political outrage more clearly than they have in years.
As the Depression era title implies there are images of economic despair throughout – “paper in the windows, boards across the doors,” Also environmental ruin (“Well it’s time to pour poison where the
crystal waters flow” Langford sings in “Poison”), yuppie arogance and political repression. “There ain’t no heart left in this town,” Deano laments.
Some songs are aimed directly at another “Waco brother” of sorts, the currrent resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“The president’s just half a man, riding in some giant hand,” Langford spits in “Blink of an Eye.” Even more damning is “The Lie” in which Deano sings, “To the manor born/A silver spoon in your nose/ … A builder of bridges to nowhere … They all call you `junior’ ”
(The Wacos never have been easy on U.S. presidents. Remember “Dollar Bill the Cowboy” and “See Willie Fly By” — still my favorite Waco tune — from the Clinton era?)
But there’s hints of redemption here — “The AFC Song” not only praises the liberating salve of “Alcohol, freedom and a country song,” but raises the possibility that there is the potential for subversion
therein. “File those old teeth down to little points.
These old teeth are still mighty sharp.
Saving Country Music From Itself
The Waco Brothers steel themselves to resurrect the traditions of
American country music.
by J. Poet
Chicago’s Bloodshot Records bills itself as the “Home of Insurgent Country Music,” and The Waco Brothers may be the most insurgent act on the label. The Wacos’ latest offering, New Deal, is a searing combination of drunken Saturday night rave up music and dark Woody-Guthrie-on-belladonna lyrics that go straight to the secret heart of darkness in America’s bosom. The fact that four of the Wacos-including songwriter, guitarist and frequent spokesperson Jon Langford-grew up in England may be partially responsible for their keen appreciation of the hard-core, honky tonk sound that fuels their high energy Cash-meets-Clash approach to one of America’s most unique art forms.
“I never heard real country music-George Jones, Buck Owens-growing up in England,” Langford recalled. “When I did it was a real shock. They were like punks; they didn’t put a barrier between themselves and their audience. They sang real songs about real people in real situations. The best punk and the best country addresses the lives of the working class peer groups that helped create and support it. Country had a working class feel that you didn ‘t get in English music, at least before punk.
“After moving to America, I felt that understanding the soul of Hank Williams was crucial to understanding the American psyche. Hank, Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, Ernest Tubb and others wrote about the everyday lives of everyday people in a way that was quite radical, and took those ideas to the mainstream. But by the ’90s they’d been replaced by white suburban rock musicians wearing cowboy hats. Today’s country music is fantasy music, like most pop.”
It was a desire to hear and play real-i.e. pre-Garth-country music that led Langford to form The Waco Brothers with drummer Steve Goulding, bass player Alan Doughty, guitarists Dean Schlabowske and Mark Durante and mandolin player Tracy Dear. Langford and Goulding had been founding members of the Mekons, a punk band with country/Americana leanings, but the Wacos were honed in on traditional country, partially because it enhanced their ability to earn beer money, or so the story goes.
“It wasn’t all that serious at first,” Langford confessed. “We were doing mostly covers of songs we liked, and changing the name of the band every time we played. The Waco Brothers was the name we used the first time we drew a decent crowd that seemed to like us, so we thought we’d keep that name for a while. We didn’t think of it as having anything to do with [the 1993 Branch Davidian confrontation with the FBI in Waco, Texas]. The darker, sicker members of the band may have thought about it, but [Waco Brothers] wasn’t a comment on a shameful event, it was just a name that sounded like Texas.”
When Bloodshot offered them a record deal, the band got serious and started producing originals that combined the manic twang of Bakersfield with lyrics that had a distinctly Brit-punk approach. “We’re attuned to the politics of everyday life,” Langford admits, “but in songwriting there’s a line you can’t step over without the music sounding ugly and futile. A discrete approach is better; describe the situation-no matter how hopeless-without saying ‘You have to smash the system,’ which gets into fantasy music.”
The Wacos include Mekons Jon Langford and Steve Goulding, former Jesus Jones bass player Alan Doughty, guitarists Dean Schlabowske and Mark Durante, and British mandolin player Tracey Dear. On New Deal, they give us another batch of tunes that marry the manic twang of Bakersfield with lyrics that sport a decidedly Brit-punk approach. There’s a little more cow and a little less punk this time out; fiddle and pedal steel come through in the mix, but the raging energy and in-your-face delivery remain intact. The vitriolic “Poison” could be a message to the Nashville establishment, its criticism leavened by its over-the-top humor. “New Deal Blues,” “The Lie” and “Blink of an Eye” deal with the current business downturn through the eyes of the
working class blokes who always bear the brunt of every market crash, while “I’m a Ghost” and “Better Everyday” sound like Johnny Paycheck on a punk bender.
By j. poet<
Washington Post on the Wacos
A Quick Spin
Wednesday, October 30, 2002; Page C05
The Waco Brothers
The Waco Brothers are not from that infamous Texas town, nor are they brothers. What we have here is a band of post-punk Chicagoans led by Brit Jon Langford, lead singer of the still-viable and as-acerbic-as-always Mekons. Langford started the Wacos to satisfy his sincere fondness for American roots music, and these days it’s getting harder to tell which is his side gig. “New Deal,” the Wacos’ sixth album since 1995, finds the loose and ragged band in high spirits, with guitars and pedal steels a-blazing on some of their best songs yet.
Many of the songs seem to be about living the renegade life, although “Johnson to Jones” is a whimsical punk-country description of a December-May relationship
(she’s 65, he’s 23), and “I’m a Ghost” somewhat traditionally addresses the passing of a relationship.
The diverse instrumentation on “New Deal” enlivens things immensely.It’s clear most of the players are from rock bands. A lilting piano opens “Poison,” but by the song’s end a sneaky and propulsive brass section has taken over; mandolin and fiddle easily snake in and out of songs, always in welcome support. Sometimes the Wacos suggest a horseback-borne “Sticky Fingers”-era Rolling Stones — the bluesy, steel-drenched “New Moon” is a cousin of “Dead Flowers” — but “Blink of an Eye” sounds like the Clash channeled through Cash.
“New Deal” is the real deal.
– Buzz McClain
Philadelphia Weekly – pick of the week (Feb 1st 2003)
Jon Langford & His Sadies, Waco Brothers
Longtime Mekons ringmaster Jon Langford doesn’t fancy rest-cures. Close on the heels of that group’s 100th record, OOOH! (or Out of Our Heads), Langford returns with new records from two of his extracurricular pursuits. The Mayors of the Moon, recorded with Toronto band the Sadies, is a winning collection of folk and galloping rockabilly. Langford’s sawdust voice can make a word as awkward as “pedantic” fit snugly inside a pop song, and songs like the blistering “American Pageant” have all the sweat and swagger of the Clash. New Deal, Langford’s sixth album with his group Waco Brothers, is even brasher–full of stomp, growl, square-dance violin and rodeo bass. Langford will be fronting both bands at a spectacular double-bill at the North Star, making for an evening that merges punk bravado with the grit of Americana. (J. Edward Keyes)
Dave Herndon is an itinerant journalist who’s been knocking around New York for decades. Most of the songs on “Nine Slices of My Midlife Crisis” grew like fungus on the walls of Dave’s Cave, an undisclosed location that over the years provided several hundred bednights for touring Mekons and Waco Brothers; Dave was always a dutiful Mekoncierge. Someplace along in the early ’90s, Lonesome Bob taught Dave the rudiments (”Table for One” is the strange fruit of one of the Loner’s weekly homework assignments), and the debt of influence is obvious: name another twanger who talks about couples therapy. So it’s largely Bob’s fault. But mainly it’s Jon Langford’s. Every so often when the circus was in town, Dave would scrape a new tune off the walls, and one day Jonboy said something deep and thought out like, “We ought to record this shit.” So over the course of a few sessions in Chicago in 2002-3, Dave and Jon recorded the basic tracks, and then the Waco Brothers each added their own voices: Deano’s and Durante’s guitars took things in a Southern rock direction; Alan Daughty set some sort of record by putting down his bass parts in one two-hour blurt; Tracey “Future” Dear chirped like an insane chicken; and the drumming duties were shared by the Wacos’ Chicago-New York tag team of Joe Camarillo and Steve Goulding. Dave asked Jon to find a Charlie Rich piano for “Only Star,” and Barcley McKay delivered it. Sally Timms broke the gender barrier by dropping in and chirping a few lines to close out “Face of the Earth.”
Throw some cave songs into the Waco-izer and this is what you get: a tragicomic Battle Cry of the Lonely Guy, who wants to know where love goes when it’s gone, and at some point pokes his head out of the cave long enough to see that there’s a path that leads into the morning light.
“This turned out better than anybody expected it to,” said engineer extraordinaire Ken Sluiter. Maybe that’s because there were no expectations. But perhaps it was la Timms who put it best: “What I like about your record is that it doesn’t sound like anybody else,” she told Dave. “It’s singular. In twenty years somebody’s going to find it and say, ‘What the fuck was this guy on about?’ ”
– Unca Dave, New York, 2004