A Chicago band known for its muddy work boots, anarchic stage shows and fondness for committing musical “pure butchery” (the New York Times’ words, not ours) may seem an odd match for the stylish craft and classicism of a Nashville songwriting treasure, but that’s just what came to be on the Great Chicago Fire.
Great Chicago Fire is a happy collaboration borne out of label mates, Paul Burch, a progenitor of the ‘90s Nashville Lower Broad scene, and the Waco Brothers, the Lenin-esque statue in the Square where the avenues of punk, country and rockn-roll intersect, sharing pitchers of Guerro’s margaritas in Austin, TX at SXSW. Maybe it was the salt, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the parade of cowboy boot shoppers and industry moguls passing before their eyes on South Congress Avenue, but two distinct creative energies decided to explore what music they could make together. Sharing songwriting, performing and production credits, it’s the Wacos’ first new material since 2005’s Freedom and Weep and puts Paul’s voice at the front and center of their mighty sonic assault; it’s a willing collision of energy and ideas, of different voices, possibilities and permutations.
It turns out that the spit of the Waco Brothers, so at home in the blue collar and punk rock dives of Chicago, share an emotional camaraderie with the polish of the traditionally minded and archetypal stories and songs Nashville’s Paul Burch has skillfully produced in his career, with both styles benefiting in surprising ways. The anthemic bluster of the Wacos, exemplified on the title song—with the whiff of T. Rex in its grooves—adds muscle to the thoughtful eloquence of the Burch penned “Monterey” and the galloping “Transfusion Blues,” while the Appalachian echoes in “Up On The Mountain” move from the holler to the pub.
On the flipside, Jon Langford’s jittery first-wave punk urgency on “Cannonball” is tempered by Burch’s deft touch with the piano and hand jive percussion; don’t even get us waxing about the tremolo guitar and those saucy sweet backing vocals by Tawney Newsome and Bethany Thomas. With Burch’s inborn pop leanings as a polestar, the Wacos show they not be all fistfight energy, as with their closing time wistfulness on the gorgeous and lush “Flight to Spain.” Similarly, Deano’s meaty hooks and rust belt lyricism on “Give In” and “On The Sly” would fit right in at the Nashville watering hole shrine Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Wrapping it all up with the sun’s about to come up and it’s time to go home giddiness of a night spent jamming with friends is a bleary and joyful singalong version of Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”