Call ’em way-co or wack-o, it doesn’t make much difference: this part-time Chicago-based ensemble funnels the diverse backgrounds of its membership-singer/guitarist Jon Langford and drummer Steve Goulding of the Mekons (the latter also lately in Poi Dog Pondering), bassist Tommy Ray of the Bottle Rockets (replaced on the road by Alan Doughty of Jesus Jones), singer/guitarist Dean Schlabowske of Wreck and British mandolinist Tracey Deare — into a frenzied wiseguy whack at sturdy country rock that proves equal to their wanton ministrations. …To the Last Dead Cowboy loosens the band’s wig to the point where it nearly blows off and then does a deft highwire jig on the edge of collapse. Settling down doesn’t diminish the fun, however — the Elvisoid “If You Don’t Change Your Mind” is an easy highlight, while the breakup waltz of “K.T. Tennessee” and the sappy duet “Lake of Vinegar” twang all the right heartstrings with sardonic glee. Neither does the political slant (see “Harm’s Way,” “Plenty Tough Union Made,” “$ Bill the Cowboy”). Ultimately, the Wacos’ greatest strength is raving Poguesiness, sending tunes like “Too Sweet to Die” and “Bad Times (Are Comin’ Round Again)” into turbocharger heaven.
Just before starting the Wacos, Langford co-produced Wreck’s El Mundo de los Niños, doing nothing to dilute the Chicago group’s jagged rock aggression. Although sporting a different lineup than on the Steve Albini-produced Soul Train (ex-Die Kreuzen bassist Keith Brammer went off to join Carnival Strippers, for one), the quartet remains an angular crab, intelligently scratching its way across a concrete track behind Schlabowske’s tunelessly articulate shouts and trebly guitar noise. The funny Mekons-country chorus of “The Lonesome Death of Casey Kasem” and the dragass progress of “Brick” provide the only clues to his imminent Waco-dom; otherwise, this world of children is nothing like that one.