|Great Chicago Fire|
|Wrong Side Of Love|
|Flight To Spain|
|Someone That You Know|
|On The Sly|
|Up On The Mountain|
|Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall|
- Pat BrennanAccordion
- Alan DoughtyBass
- Joe CamarilloDrums
- Paul BurchDrums
- Steve GouldingDrums
- Fats KaplinFiddle
- Jon Langford (2)Guitar, Vocals
- Paul BurchGuitar, Vocals, Electric Piano
- Dean SchlabowskeGuitar, Vocals, Organ
- Tracy DearMandolin, Vocals
- Paul BurchProducer
- The Waco BrothersProducer
- Ken SluiterRecorded By
- Bethany ThomasVocals
- Tawney NewsomeVocals
Waco Brothers, Paul Burch combine for ‘Great Chicago Fire’
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.”
A COLLABORATION WITH PAUL BURCH
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 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 explorewhat 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 spit of the Waco Brothers, so at home in the blue collar and punk rock dives of Chicago, share an emotional camaraderie with the polish of 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.”