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The Waco Brothers and Paul Burch – Great Chicago Fire Review

April 25, 2012 | Posted by C.A. Bell

Release Date: April 24, 2012
Running Time: 38:37
Label: Bloodshot Records
Genre: Alternative Country Rock
Key Tracks:
“The Great Chicago Fire”
“Transfusion Blues”
“A Hard Rainas A-Gonna Fall”

The Mekons have long been known for mixing their roughshod style of punk with country and Americana. Eventually, that wasn’t enough for frontman Jon Langford. In the early 90’s, Langford formed the Waco Brothers, a group of mostly British players making country music to play in Chicago. That last thing I said was a perfectly normal English sentence. The Waco Brothers gained a loyal following through their roughshod bar room touring and released their debut album, To the Last Dead Cowboy, in 1995. Eight albums later, we’ve come to The Great Chicago Fire, a collaboration with fellow Americana lover (and actual American) Paul Burch. Burch is a country fan of the Gram Parsons/John Prine ilk. Though he has released eight albums in his own right, Burch is most-likely best known as a contributor and member of indie country stalwarts Lambchop. His solo work is fairly consistent with the standard Lambchop hard country slow-groove, though he leans a bit further towards dirges.

On Great Chicago Fire, you will find a good amount of love for Pub Rock icons like Rockpile or Brinsley Schwartz, and that is to say that would won’t probably find much of anything cutting edge. Some of Langford’s punk background slips into the picture on the album’s title track, and makes it perhaps the most interesting song on the record. Other than that, this is a record for fans of the barroom sing-a-long (particularly tracks like “Up On The Mountain”). Most of Langford’s lyrics suffer from a heavy Bob Weir-esque delivery that comes off more than a bit clunky. Burch fairs better on the mic, but the uptempo beat does a lot to blur the flavor you’ll find on Burch’s solo material. In general, I appreciate both Langford and Burch more in their own main projects.

I don’t want to come across as saying the material on Great Chicago Fire is bad. It’s not by any means a bad record. This is bar room rockin’ at the basics. That’s really the problem, I think. I love a good honky tonk blues as much as the next guy, but it does take a certain magic to transfer that sound from the pub into the studio (a skill that Burch himself is typically very handy with). The music and performances are fine, but a little forgettable and maybe too clean. I get the feeling that you would see an entirely different performance of these songs live than you hear on this record. You can get the glimmer of that magic in their cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, but it mostly just reminds one of how good this could be. Record this set of songs on a groggy night in Austin, and Great Chicago Fire could be a classic. As is, however, you have an album that is amusing and not particularly memorable.

Purchase The Waco Brothers and Paul Burch’s Great Chicago Fire

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The 411: The Waco Brothers and Paul Burch have a fun, but forgettable record in Great Chicago Fire. This one lacks the raw energy that probably makes their live shows absolute classics. Burch does apply some magic, but he gets a little washed out by the band's pace. I think you can do better listening to something else from either artist.
Final Score:  5.8   [ Not So Good ]  legend

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C.A. Bell
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