Many people are well aware of the rise of pop country in the 1990s that dominated radio and mainstream attention. The likes of Garth Brooks, Lee Ann Rimes and Shania Twain led the charge. But meanwhile a counterculture movement broke out in response to it and that was alt-country. The name most associated with alt-country of course is Steve Earle, but another group who made their name at the same time were the Waco Brothers. The five-piece band is based out of Chicago, unsurprisingly part of the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. They’re made up of Dean Schlabowske, Joe Camarillo, Jon Langford, Tracey Dear and Alan Doughty. For the first time in 11 years, they’ve released a formal studio album, Going Down in History. And they certainly live up to their reputation of a hard rocking country band who know how to make entertaining music.
You get a great taste of the Waco Brothers’ country meets punk rock style on “DIYBYOB.” It’s country in sound, but punk rock in nature. Being the group’s first studio album since 2005, it’s a nice introduction for new fans who may just be finding out about this alt-country group. The crunchy guitar riffs that rear it’s head throughout “We Know It” will instantly be a crowd favorite at live shows. How could a fun song like this not be entertaining? “Receiver” is a gritty rocker about life and death. The infectious guitar riffs in this song will certainly get you bobbing your head as you listen to it. The same can be said of the following song “Building Our Own Prison.” The song is a commentary on the current state of the country and how they see things playing out. It’s one of those songs on the album where it’s definitely more rock than country, but it’s a reminder of the band’s versatility.
One of my favorite songs on Going Down on History is “All or Nothing.” It tells the story of a man trying to make a woman see his way of thinking and how things could work out between them. He wants “all or nothing,” but it’s not going to happen. I love the gospel-tinged feel given by the organ in the background of the song and adds an almost anthem-like feel to the song. “Had Enough” is one of the hardest rockers on the album. It’s the type of song you want to put on after a long day of work and crank the volume to 11 as you get some anger off your chest. The title kind of says it all. This is followed by “Lucky Fool,” which is about a man who proclaims how lucky he has been to have this woman in his life. But now she wants to walk out and he pleads for her not to leave. I love the sense of urgency in the vocals, really selling how crestfallen the man is to lose this woman in his life.
The album’s title track is another song that tackles life and death. It’s one of those songs where you have to interpret for yourself what they’re getting at, which I can not only say about this song, but many songs on this album. For those who like music with concrete themes, you might not like this song. But for those who want music that makes them think, I think you’ll enjoy this song. I can say the same about “Devil’s Day.” But one thing I enjoy more about “Devil’s Day” is the guitar play, which draws me into the song. Going Down in History closes out with “Orphan Song.” It’s a honkytonking song about camaraderie and friendship. The fiddle play is great throughout, along with the piano play mixed in with the band’s consistently solid guitar play. It really ends the album with a bang and is definitely one of the standouts on it.
The Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History is an entertaining album that may not blow you away in the lyrics department, but most certainly instrumentation-wise. After listening to an album from the Waco Brothers you will most likely come away with the conclusion that they would be best heard live and I would agree. If the Waco Brothers are ever in your area, I would recommend seeing them because I can imagine all of these songs better in a live environment. They’re meant to be heard in a crowd full of people looking for a fun time. The Waco Brothers are the perfect live band, capturing the energy of a rock band and the sensibilities of a country band. Going Down in History is a fun album that you can throw on and connect with from the first listen.