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!