On To the Last Dead Cowboy
, the Waco Brothers
sounded like one of Jon Langford's better side projects; on Cowboy in Flames
, they sounded like a real band, and a damn good one at that, and that made all the difference in the world. A year and a half of gigging around the Midwest had given substance to the Wacos claim of being "the World's Tuffest Country Band," while the full-time addition of Mark Durante
on steel guitar reinforced the twang in their tone as Langford and Dean Schlabowske
kicked up the wattage on their guitars. The working-class rage that bubbled under the surface of the first album came to a full boil on Cowboy in Flame, and that passion fueled the sweaty, urgent rage of the best cuts, especially "See Willy Fly By," "Take Me to the Fires," and the title cut. At the same time, the band proved the could slow things down and still make their music connect, as "Dollar Dress" and "Dry Land" eloquently testify. The inspired covers (supercharged arrangements of "White Lightning" and "Wreck on the Highway") make clear the band's nitro-fueled take on classic country comes from a place of love and respect, and the final cut, "Death of Country Music." speaks volumes about what's wrong with the current state of mainstream C&W (and, by extension, American culture). Some wag once described the Waco Brothers
as "half Cash, half Clash," and, on Cowboy in Flames
, they sound strong enough to make good on both halves of that equation. A triumph, and one of the finest albums to emerge from the Chicago alt-country scene.