CD Reviews for 10/07/05 – Waco Bros, Detroit Cobras, Volebeats by Dan Ferguson

Waco Brothers
Freedom and Weep
Bloodshot BS-119

A two-by-four to the ears, in a very righteous and oft-times pugnacious rock ‘n’ roll kind of way, is the manner in which the music of the Windy City-based Waco Brothers usually strikes. A band as synonymous with the spirit and sound of Bloodshot Records as is the phrase insurgent country music, Freedom and Weep finds the Wacos placing the alt country side of the performing persona a bit more on the backburner and opting instead for an album heavy on raucous and ragged-but-right punk inspired rockers. Clash meets Cash is how the band has often been described and Freedom and Weep is certainly in keeping with that tag. As is customary across what with the release of this latest is now seven long players over a difficult to believe ten year span, from the singing to the songwriting and playing the democratic process is hard at work as long-time Waco’s Jonboy (Jon Langford), Deano (Dean Schlabowske), Tracey (Tracey Dear), Steve Goulding, Alan Sprockets (Alan Doughty), and Durantula (Mark Durante) collectively kick up a dust storm of non-commercial nourishment to the ears. The neat thing about the Waco Brothers is that it’s all still more of a good timing moonlighting type of operation for its members whose individual resumes list bands like the Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Jesus Jones, KMFDM, Dollar Store, and Graham Parker & the Rumour. Despite the abundance of high octane rockers, Freedom and Weep does offer up a couple of country-leaning beauties. They include “Come a Long Long Way” which finds Tracy Dear doing the vocal honors and Mark Durante sweetening the pot with some tasty pedal steel guitar and “Lincoln Town Car” with Deano handling singing duties (and Durante once again filling the holes with plenty of nifty licks and rolls on the steel). On the whole, the 13 songs more often than not also display a most definite social conscience as the Wacos demonstrate they are not afraid to ruffle anyone’s feathers with some very pointed songs that take aim at everything from President George Bush (“Rest of the World” holds nothing back in the disdain for the regime of our Commander and Chief) to Christian conservatives to commercial country radio (“Drinkin’ & Cheatin’ & Death”). In other words, consider Freedom and Weep standard issue Waco Brothers and frankly speaking, there is nothing wrong with that. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, or

The Wacos perform at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, MA on Thursday, October 13. TT’s is located at 10 Brookline Street. Call 617-492-BEAR.

Detroit Cobras
Bloodshot BS-125

You can often tell a lot about a band by the covers it includes on a record. Take Baby, the latest release from the Detroit Cobras. The first release on these shores in some four years from the Motor City five-piece as well as its debut album for Bloodshot Records, on it you’ll find songs from a stylistically diverse collection of tunesmiths that includes Hank Ballard, Bobby Womack, Allen Toussaint, Billie Jean Horton (the one-time wife of honky tonk icons Hank Williams and Johnny Horton), the duos of Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes and Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Willie Dixon, and Naomi Neville (the Crescent City classic “It’s Raining”). For the uninitiated, the Detroit Cobras were built on such a foundation, that being grabbing the goods from the vaults of record labels like Fortune and Motown, as well as 1950s rockers and soul numbers, and sticking its own inventive and more often than not juiced-up stamp on them in the process. Baby is yet another highly enticing mix of covers on which the band steers characteristically astray of the original article reworking songs with an informed sense of low-down, gritty and dirty urgency. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear shades of Detroit’s rock and roll soul-time heyday creeping in and out of these songs be it a memorable Motown lick here or something as obvious as the “Dancing in the Street” (ala Martha & the Vandellas) haze hanging over the Penn/Oldham cut “Slipping Around” which gets the Baby ball rolling in frantic fashion. Commanding the attention of all on this record is chief lady singer Rachel Nagy whose tough, sexy, and soulful delivery conjures up aural images of everyone from Chrissie Hynde to Reeves to even a slice or two of Ronnie Spector of Ronnettes fame. Her Detroit Cobras mates deliver the goods with Stooges-like power on the supporting end. As an extra bonus, in addition to the 13 tracks comprising Baby the Bloodshot folks also include the entirety of the band’s 2003 EP Seven Easy Pieces previously available only as an import, not to mention the U.S. debut of the band’s video for the number “Cha Cha Twist”. In all, it’s 20 tracks and one video which by my count adds up to a tantalizing package.

The Detroit Cobras perform at Middle East in Cambridge, MA on Friday, October 14. The Middle East is located at 472 Massachusetts Avenue. Call 617-497-0576.

Like Her
Turquoise Mountain TQMT003

Are you a sucker for jangly, harmony-filled British Invasion styled pop ala groups like The Hollies and The Searchers. If so, then you owe it to yourself to check out the latest release called Like Her from the Volebeats. A band that established itself as an alt country phenomenon of sorts at the dawning of that era in the early 1990s thanks to the album Up North which personified as good as any album up to that point the late Gram Parsons’ “Cosmic American Music” vision, the Volebeats have always been a restless type of band not content to peg it at any single style. How else does one explain covers of songs from groups as far ranging as Abba, 13th Floor Elevators, Slayer, Serge Gainsbourg, and long-ago Detroit-based hillbilly duo the York Brothers which can be found on various Volebeats albums, 45s and compilations the band has been part of . Perhaps the most far-out cover from the band was the reworking of Funkadelics’s “Maggot Brain, Parts 1 & 2” which was issued as one half of a 45 RPM record in the late 1990s and which can also be found on the Bloodshot Records compilation Making Singles Drinking Doubles? Like Her is the eight longplayer from this group which was founded in 1987 and starting off as a combo playing acoustic music on the street corners of Detroit. On this latest release, the Volebeats use the 1960s Invasion-styled sound as a starting point and then proceed to put their own fresh spin on things losing nothing in the translation. Ringing guitars, two and three part harmonies, Like Her is a downright dreamy blend of Brit pop nirvana making that comes off as nothing but pure ear candy. (Turquoise Mountain Records, 440 9th Avenue, 8th Floor, Suite 36, New York, NY 10001, or