The Waco Brothers is Jon Langford`s local bar band, a side project for the founder and mainstay of the Mekons. But while the Mekons are still as artistically viable and commercially marginal as ever, they work together only occasionally, having scattered to the far corners of the globe. Langford, originally from Wales, wound up in Chicago, where he found a few congenial fellows to gig with. But while Langford is the first name one associates with the Wacos, it makes just as much sense to view them as the second coming of Wreck, Dean Schlabowske`s alt-country band. Langford produced Wreck`s last album, and found in Dean a kindred spirit with an aesthetic firmly rooted in honky-tonk and a clear, cynical gaze on the capitalist rot all around.
Still, it`s hard for an outsider to tell who does what here. The Wacos are a six-man band who over six albums have had only one personnel change (Allen Doughty replacing Tom Ray on bass starting with the second album), with three vocalists and all compositions credited to the group. This distinguishes them from the singer/songwriters who dominate alt country, although volume (loud) and tempo (fast) are also distinctive. As are the often-biting lyrics, which are pure class consciousness from "Plenty Tuff, Union Made" (on To the Last Dead Cowboy) to "Dragging My Own Tombstone" (on Electric Waco Chair).
The six albums are remarkably consistent, the main difference being that the first one is both artier and more country, like a Mekons album. But by the second album they had simplified the songs and punched up the volume, spiced with the occasional country cover such as "Wreck on the Highway" or "Johnson to Jones." And if the latter albums have a slight edge, that just means that their songcraft is getting sharper. (TOM HULL)