The drunken fascination with country music that drenched Jon Langford’s Mekons albums like Fear & Whiskey and Mekons Honky Tonkin’ evaporated years ago, but it hasn’t left the singer’s heart. Billing themselves as “Chicago’s #1 Wasted String Band,” Langford’s Waco Brothers aren’t so much a side project as a chance to drink beer and play the music he digs so much. With Dean Zablocki (formerly of Wreck) and old Mekons drummer Steve Goulding (who I mistakenly claimed had rejoined their fold a few weeks back–he still plays with Poi Dog Pondering), the combo’s casual debut, …To the Last Dead Cowboy (Bloodshot), surges with charm. Many of its country bits are hackneyed–the cliched two-beat instrumental “Geronimo” opens the album with enough schlock to instill fear about what may follow–but the band makes no pretense of authenticity. Once you get over such issues of purity it’s hard not to dig their sound. From gentle ballads like “Lake of Vinegar” to upbeat tunes like “Harm’s Way” and “If You Don’t Change Your Mind,” the Waco Brothers breathe life into rock ‘n’ roll’s bloodied carcass. In other hands the country gimmicks could be irritating, but the delivery here is heartfelt, and though the songs lack originality they’re pleasurable enough that you won’t mind. Friday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508. Next Saturday, January 20, 10 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont; 281-4444. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.