ROCK + PUNK + INDUSTRIAL = COUNTRY? By DOUGLAS FULMER
From: The Plain Dealer / April 24, 1998 Friday
Throw together a bunch of outcasts from British indie-rock bands the Mekons, KMDFM and Jesus Jones and what do you get?
"A country band" probably wouldn't jump to the tip of anyone's tongue, but that's just what happened. Well, an alternative country band, anyway.
Meet the Waco Brothers, whose Hank Williams-meets-the-Clash approach to music has earned a reputation for wildly raucous, twang-drenched live shows.
Jon Langford doesn't think it was that odd to go from the punk-rock Mekons to helping found the Waco Brothers.
"The best of punk and the best of country have a lot in common. They're both pretty simple musically and they tell real stories about everyday life. They talk about the way people really live," the Welsh-born guitarist-vocalist said by telephone from his home in Chicago.
Touring the states with the Mekons brought him into contact with the quintessential American music.
"I heard Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills and I immediately started buying all these old country records," he said.
In 1993, Langford and buddy Den Schalbowske of the hard-rock band Wreck put together an band with mandolinist Tracey Dear. The goal was simple: to play rocked-up covers of Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash and their other country heroes at Chicago bars.
It might have stayed that way if the folks at Bloodshot Records, the Chicago-based "insurgent" country label, hadn't caught wind of what they were doing.
"They wanted us to record an album so we decided we had to write some original songs," Langford said. "We wrote a bunch of songs we thought sounded like all of those songs we had been doing."
The result was "To the Last Dead Cowboy," released late in 1995 to rave reviews. Langford felt the album didn't truly capture the spirit of the band's live performances, a deficiency he set out to correct with the group's next album, 1997's "Cowboy in Flames." That effort leaned more toward the band's rock side.
Later in the year, 10 songs from the "Cowboy in Flames" sessions were released as "Do You Think About Me?," a budget-priced 31-minute "wee-CD." A little more refined than the two prior albums it still rocks decisively.
Langford will be picking up two paychecks tonight when he also performs with his own band, playing songs from his new "Skull Orchard" release on the Sugar Free label. The sound is more stripped-down than anything he's recorded before.
The less dense mix clears the way for stories and observations born of the experience of growing up in Newport, a town that hasn't dealt well with the change to a post-industrial society.