For nearly a decade the spirits of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams have been riding aboard the runaway Waco express. Resurrecting all that was good about classic country and recasting it in an idiom of their, the Waco Brothers corroborate that a rich tradition has not fallen on deaf ears. With New Deal, they have again deftly juxtaposed sociopolitical consciousness with joviality, engendering more of the most rockin’ gallows humor for which the band has come to be known. Their raging, foot-thumping honky tonk take on the whimsical “Johnson To Jones,” a song about cradle-robbing (or, rather old-folks’ home robbing), is uproarious. Yet, as the deceptively somber “New Deal Blues” evinces, central is the concern for the common man: “It’s an early retirement/With cake and balloons/See no one here is sure just exactly what you do.” Similar themes are evoked in “The Lie,” whose solemnity is underscored by the wail of the pedal steel. It is this urgency of the human condition that has been long ignored by the glittery inanity of Nashville country… I mean pop.
The Waco Brothers refuse to play by the rules of the industry, whether mainstream or underground. In fact, it was this shared disillusionment with the rules of the game that propagated the band. While “alt.country” has become a generic signifier that encapsulates almost any band that proffers punk attitude with country sensibilities, the Waco Brothers seem a bit suspicious of such pigeonholing. In order to be even somewhat convincing, it takes a little more than a cowboy hat and some “yee-ha.” Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Waco Brothers make use of a more diverse musical palette, invoking the roots of tradition without being derivative or maudlin. “New Moon” is a straight up blues tune that keeps the listener’s head steadily nodding to its languid tempo. As the album’s first song “Poison” (which features the “strident” vocal harmonies of Stacy Earle) avows: “Well, it’s time to pour poison where the crystal waters flow/Time to break wind where your shrinking violets grow…” Or, as what could easily be the band’s mission statement, “AFC” proclaims: “Alcohol, Freedom and a country song/I’ve been waiting way too long.” With country music (alt.country included) in such a dire state, New Deal offers a honky tonk interpretation of Cartesian theory: tear it down, only to build it up again.
Bloodshot Records: http://www.bloodshotrecords.com