The Waco Brothers, Waco Express: Live and Kickin’ at Schubas Tavern, Chicago

Wayne Robins

By Wayne Robins

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

This is definitely not one of your well-manicured, run-out-the-contract concert recording keepsakes. Waco Express: Live & Kickin 'at Schuba's Tavern, Chicago is both a brutally inspirational album and a career retrospective, drawing from all seven of the Waco Brothers 'studio albums. Aside from providing a home for Mekons co-founder and Welsh expatriate Jon Langford, the Waco repertory has come to epitomize the Bloodshot label's roots-rock with urban twang aesthetic.

The Wacos at their best — fired-up and brutally inspirational.

The source of that aesthetic, of course, is the hard country twist of such mid-1980s Mekons albums as Fear and Whiskey. The touchstones include that mythical roadhouse stage where Keith Richards slices and dices chords with Gram Parsons ("Hello Roof"), the roots-reach of the Clash ("Too Sweet to Die"), renegade Nashville ("If You Don't Change Your Mind"). Lyrically, the Waco's remain the disloyal opposition, as aroused to battle as they were when they formed in 1994 — perhaps not coincidentally, the same year the Republicans swept both houses of Congress for the first time in a generation. Bittersweet triumphs and defiant sorrows get the punk rock punch and political left hook ("Nothing at All," "Missing Link") that characterizes the Waco's most robust work. From "Cowboy in Flames" to the closer, "Take Me to the Fires," this album redefines torch and twang: The crowd's loud, the band's louder and the Waco Brothers provide the torches.