Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Waco Brothers

  • . . . To the Last Dead Cowboy [Bloodshot, 1995] Neither
  • Cowboy in Flames [Bloodshot, 1997] A-
  • Do You Think About Me? [Bloodshot, 1997] **
  • Wacoworld [Bloodshot, 1999] A-
  • Electric Waco Chair [Bloodshot, 2000] A-
  • New Deal [Bloodshot, 2002] ***
  • Freedom and Weep [Bloodshot, 2005] ***
  • Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago [Bloodshot, 2008] ***
  • Cabaret Showtime [Bloodshot, 2015] ***
  • Going Down in History [Bloodshot, 2016] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

. . . To the Last Dead Cowboy [Bloodshot, 1995] Neither

Cowboy in Flames [Bloodshot, 1997]
Buck and Ringo notwithstanding, country music doesn't come naturally--not to city slickers, or city neoprimitivists either, especially Brits. So of course transplanted Chicagoan Jon Langford grasps it more palpably now than he did in 1985. And if this can't very well make us forget Fear and Whiskey, at least now we know the W. Bros.' debut was only a run-through. "White Lightning" and "Big River" will obviously impress anyone innocent of Jones and Cash. But Langford's remakes add a last-chance soul both songs put to use, and eventually, many of the originals surpass them. Leaving a radical postcountry record that begins in a "suburb of Babylon" and ends snorting the ground-up bones of "the Jones and the Ca-ashizz." A-

Do You Think About Me? [Bloodshot, 1997]
their "militant honky tonk" could stand some "Nashville songcraft" ("Hard Times," "Revolution Blues") **

Wacoworld [Bloodshot, 1999]
The more you listen to Jon Langford--or see him live, where he'll spout wisecracks for hours--the more impressive his verbal facility seems. But Deano is an equal partner in this particular metaphor system, which defines country music as the great lost conduit of white male working-class desperation. Langford tends toward the grimly matter-of-fact: "That's why they're called bars, 'cos they keep me inside." "But I'll paint myself back out/Of this corner everytime." Deano is more visionary, as in "Pigsville," where you wake up next to your own chalk outline, or "Hello to Everybody," where aliens abduct you to "a warmer planet/Where there is no consequence." Both sing so lustily that the band's indifference to the niceties of country as it exists in history is of no consequence. When the milder-voiced mandolinist Mr. Tracey Dear takes the mike, however, the illusion pales. A-

Electric Waco Chair [Bloodshot, 2000]
Loving Sally Timms as I do, I take no pleasure in noting that the Wacos have supplanted the Mekons as Jon Langford's main squeeze. On their fifth and best album, a questionable vision of country music that dates back to Fear and Whiskey goes around and comes around as Langford and company realize that they've hung around long enough to turn into the desperate working stiffs their faux honky-tonk imagines. "I took this job in the summer/Never saw the winter rollin' on," Langford spits out as the autumn of his years hits November, and soon Dino Schlabowske is a traveling salesman doing cold calls on a circle tour he's afraid will never end. Me, I hope business picks up, which seems a nicer way of requesting more records this bitter and bracing than wondering whether alternate career opportunities are really any better. A-

New Deal [Bloodshot, 2002]
singing the good songs as hard as the great ones, more Johnny Cash every time out ("The Lie," "Poison," "Johnson to Jones") ***

Freedom and Weep [Bloodshot, 2005]
Bitterly weary, which isn't always an advantage ("Missing Link," "Nothing at All," "Join the Club"). ***

Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago [Bloodshot, 2008]
Old songs for the long haul and damn the consequences ("Plenty Tuff Union Made," "Blink of an Eye"). ***

Cabaret Showtime [Bloodshot, 2015]
Live covers of rough-cut country chestnuts of varying sheen, plus, er, a Jimmy Reed, a Pink Floyd, two T. Rexes, and a narsty Christmas ditty of their own devising ("Merry Xmas to Me," "20th Century Boy") ***

Going Down in History [Bloodshot, 2016]
Ten songs in half an hour with little to distinguish them formally or harmonically but plenty emotionally. Jonny Langford and Deano Schlabowske are so fervently acerbic that it doesn't matter much that the full lyrics of "Lucky Fool" and "Going Down in History" don't deliver on their titles the way "Building Our Own Prison" and "DIYBYOB" do. And the playing packs the kind of conviction you expect of college kids who've just figured out that straight rock and roll can take you out of yourself when you really truly feel the need--and really truly bang away at it. "This is the first track of the last album," Deano begins, sounding like he wants never to stop. But half an hour later, he does. For the time being. A-