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Waco Brothers Mix Country And Punk On 'Going Down In History'


This is FRESH AIR. The Waco Brothers have been around for 20 years now. They're a mostly Chicago-based five-piece band whose most prominent member is the British ex-patriot Jon Langford. The Waco Brothers just released their first album of original material in a decade. It's called "Going Down In History." Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.


THE WACO BROTHERS: (Singing) This is the first track from the last album. No one knows which way the ship will head. Sailors take warning, red eyes in the morning. You can't kill us. We're already dead.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The Waco Brothers are a rock band with a strong country music influence and a punk rock ethos. The result is rough-edge music that sounds as though it's been bashed out in a couple of takes with minimal rehearsal. Instead of seeming sloppy or lazy, however, the music on "Going Down In History" is urgent, precise and pointed.


THE WACO BROTHERS: (Singing) It's all gone. We used up everything. Got to find something to put in its place, got to walk before you can fall down on your face. Going to bite the hand that feeds you, going to bite the hand that feeds you, going to bite the hand that feeds you, going to bite the hand that feeds you. We're going down. We're going down. We're going down. You're going down in history.

TUCKER: A recurring phrase in that song is commit to something drastic. The idea being that extremism in the defense of music is a most admirable goal. Jon Langford is also one of the leaders of The Mekons, one of the most ferociously political of the original wave of punk rock bands. All of the band members sing, but it's Langford's burly shout that is most distinctively recognizable.


THE WACO BROTHERS: (Singing) Tick-tack, clackity-clack (ph) tick-tack, clackity-clack, tick-tack, clackity-clack, tick-tack, clackity-clack, tick-tack, clackity-clack. Round and around in the front and the back. Big boxes ring the town. Dead (unintelligible) falling down. Change is constant. Man, I'm (unintelligible). Some might even call it progress. Tick-tack, clackity-clack, tick-tack, clackity-clack. And you see its shadow. Can you see its spell? A chrysalis spinning in the wind. Out in the cold, dry wind, where we're building our own prison, building our own prison.

TUCKER: The literal centerpiece of this album arriving midway through is "All Or Nothing," a song written by Ian McLagan, the British keyboardist and best known as a member of the Faces who died in 2014. He was a friend of the Wacos, and they give his composition a proper showcase, lifting it into the realm of an anthem of commitment to art and work and love.


THE WACO BROTHERS: (Singing) I thought you'd listen to my reasoning. But now I see you don't hear a thing. Got to make you see how it's got to be. Yes, it's all or nothing, all or nothing, all or nothing from me.

TUCKER: When the Waco Brothers started out, they were almost a parody of a country rock band placed within the context of ironic punk thinking. The band also possesses that Chicago style of deep dish, tough-minded aesthetic analysis. And as Langford in particular dug deeper into the history of American country music, he began to realize the depth of beauty and truth in the best of the genre. With each succeeding album, the Waco Brothers have become less ironic, more sincere and forthright in speaking truth to country rock as a still vital form. "Going Down In History" is the best attempt yet for the band to do what that album title says.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. If you'd like to catch up on interviews you missed, check out our podcast. You can hear our recent interviews about teens and social media and why so many women have remained single and our interviews with Maggie Smith and comic Louie Anderson, who's terrific in the new comedy series "Baskets" playing Zach Galifianakis's mother. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.