Paul Burch / Waco Brothers

Great Chicago Fire

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The package for Great Chicago Fire includes a tongue-in-cheek note from the owner of Bloodshot Records urging the Waco Brothers and Paul Burch to team up despite their "paltry record sales" in an effort to create something that "should aim to be between the 14th and 25th best rock albums ever made." Part of what presumably makes this funny is the fact that Paul Burch has never had a reputation for rocking out -- he's an excellent songwriter who has made a handful of fine albums fusing various roots styles with traditional country sounds, but rock & roll just isn't in his wheelhouse. The Waco Brothers, on the other hand, have always been a rock band first and a country act third or fourth, despite their clear reverence for the genre and its traditions. Putting Burch and the Wacos together in the studio would seem like a dicey prospect, but the two acts bring out unexpected strengths in one another on Great Chicago Fire. Arriving seven years after the Waco's last studio effort, Great Chicago Fire finds them sounding fresher and more enthusiastic than they have in a while, and though this doesn't hit nearly as hard as their best work, the songs connect with an admirable strength and grace, and they haven't had a set of material as consistently strong as this in a decade. And if Burch doesn't sound like a rock singer on this set, he rides the waves of the Waco Brothers' more muscular approach with aplomb as they make with a Stones-influenced R&B groove that informs even the most C&W specific numbers on the album. Closing with a Bob Dylan cover re-imagined as a lost Yardbirds tune, Great Chicago Fire is that rare collaboration where both sides seem to inform one another equally and derive new strengths from teaming up, and with any luck these two acts will bring the fire again someday.

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