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http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2003-01-23/music_feature4.php

SADIES CHALLENGE

BY TIM PERLICH

rarely is the outspoken jon Langford at a loss for words. But even for the prolific Mekons mouthpiece, the release of The Mayors Of The Moon (Bloodshot) disc just months after delivering critically lauded new albums from the Mekons and his boisterous Waco Brothers is an impressive feat of productivity. Of course, Langford can’t take full credit for the righteously ripping Mayors Of The Moon disc, a collaborative project with popular local twang terrors the Sadies. He came up with the lyrics he growls with that unique “r”-rolling Welsh-Chicagoan drawl of his, but it’s the quick-picking Sadies boys who provide the galloping soundtrack.

According to Langford, only the tune Strange Birds was written with the frantic fingers of the Sadies’ Dallas and Travis Good in mind. The compositional challenge was less in the process of creation than in that of excavation.

“When I write songs, there’s a well-defined area in my mind for what the Wacos do and what the Mekons do,” Langford explains from his Chicago hideout. “Sometimes I end up with songs I have no idea what to do with, and those I would typically save for a solo album.”

It was those song lyrics that didn’t fit anywhere that he used for the recording with the Sadies.

“I literally found them lying around — I was rummaging around the floor of my basement, picking up flood-damaged scraps of paper filled with blurry words. I gathered all those lyrics, shoved ‘em in a Jiffy bag and handed it to the Sadies, like, OK, let’s see what they do with these. That was it.”

It sounds like an uncharacteristically hands-off approach for someone with Langford’s reputation as a control freak. But that was a large part of the project’s appeal. Once the Sadies had the songs worked out, Langford would just have to sing them. Piece of cake, right? Not quite.

“It was interesting for me to give up the reins. I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak, but when I work with people, I’m hands-on and it’s very much a collaboration from beginning to end.

“With this project, I just let the Sadies do what they do. I didn’t even hear any of their song ideas until we met up at Travis’s farm outside Toronto.”

Langford was in for a surprise when he arrived. Because the Sadies like to keep everything spontaneous, they hadn’t recorded any demos. Dallas Good had to sing Langford the songs so he could hear their arrangements.

“The idea of going into the studio not being that familiar with the material was a bit scary. Fortunately, Greg Keelor from Blue Rodeo showed up with an expensive bottle of port. That was helpful.”

Considering the comfortable coherence of the results — which benefit from the tasteful support play of Blue Rodeo’s Bob Egan and James Gray — you’d never guess that The Mayors Of The Moon was essentially completed during one heavily clouded booze-up of a weekend blitz.

“The session was a very Frank Sinatra kind of thing. I showed up at the studio, sang my songs, shook hands with the musicians and was off.”

Since then, Langford has been back at work composing songs for the next Sally Timms album, which Timms has asked him to write from a woman’s perspective. “I was thinking of plagiarizing heavily from a book of women’s poetry,” chortles Langford.

But lately most of his song ideas have been inspired by the looming threat of another Gulf War.

“Alarming things are going on in America. When you have right-wing militarists and CEOs of oil companies running the government, where better to attack than an oil-rich country like Iraq?

“Mussolini said fascism should really be called “corporatism,’ because t’s the merger of corporate and state power. That sounds exactly like what we’ve got now.”timp@nowtoronto.com

http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/events/future/documents/02660702.htm

Wacko brother
Jon Langford’s Bloodshot, toil, tears, and sweat

In keeping with the proletarian leanings of his crypto-Marxist punk group the Mekons and the blue-collar allegiances of his haggard-punk wastrels the Waco Brothers, Jon Langford has been working hard lately, even by his own prolific standards. Last year alone, there was Executioner’s Last Songs (Bloodshot), the jaunty anti-death-penalty benefit CD he helmed with fellow backwoods malcontents the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Then came OOOH! (Quarter Stick), a superb Mekons record that coincided with the legendary UK punk group’s 25th anniversary and spawned a raucous, celebratory tour. October saw the release of New
Deal (Bloodshot), the Wacos’ most vigorous barnstormer yet. On New Year’s Eve, he snuck in one more gig, not to mention one more surprise, with a set of children’s songs at Boston’s First Night. Not that he’s slowing down in 2003: he’s teamed up Bloodshot labelmates the Sadies for yet another album, Mayors of the Moon (Bloodshot). And he’s embarking on a tour that’ll have him playing two sets a night, fronting both the Sadies and the Wacos. (The tour hits T.T. the Bear’s Place next Thursday.)

Langford’s taste for distilled spirits is renowned; is he a workaholic too? “You’d have to ask me wife,” says the transplanted Welshman from his Chicago studio, where he also painted the album artwork for New Deal and Mayors. “She would think so, definitely. But I have a rich and varied social life as well.”

Rich and varied, too, is Mayors, which finds Langford’s lovelorn laments and caustic cultural critiques getting grand treatment from the Sadies’ supple arrangements. The Toronto quintet — who also served as the backing band on ’50s R&B sleaze Andre Williams’s country album a few years back — fuse Hammond B3s and pedal steel with Johnny Cash riffs and Bo Diddley beats, giving Langford’s lyrics an almost baroque flourish.

“The way they play is very different,” he says. “They come from very musicianly backgrounds and have been playing since they were little kids. I didn’t really pick up an instrument until I was 18.”

He may not have the Sadies’ chops, but his meat-and-potatoes guitar technique is well-suited to the Waco Brothers, who after six albums and scores of legendarily debauched gigs have far outgrown their side-project status. With the Wacos, Langford continues to enunciate his outsider’s take on American roots music, which he first explored back on the Mekons’ shambling 1985 punky-tonk landmark Fear and Whiskey.

“Punk was about much more than five minutes of anger,” he says. “Merle Haggard and Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones — we’d really never heard them [in England] before. That’s one of the main reasons I’m here. It’s certainly not because I love American foreign policy.”

Most of all, the Wacos afford Langford the chance to cut loose without being burdened by the fan hagiography and grad-level critical parsing that tend to afflict his other band. “I couldn’t take the Mekons into any bar in America on a Friday night and have ’em set up and play without all that cool rock-journalism blah de blah. There’s an immediacy about the Waco brothers. I don’t know what the chemistry of the band is, but we just have this need to explode on stage.”

Langford was a little more subdued a few weeks ago as he strummed children’s tunes to a sea of tykes at the Hynes Convention Center. He says the experience, even though he has a five-year-old and an eight-month-old of his own, was terrifying. “There were a lot of people there! I did some Burl Ives, I did some stuff off the Bloodshot album [the label’s children’s-music compilation The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides]. I made some spaceship noises, I ran around, I got the kids to run around and demand things of their parents.”

As for Langford’s oldest, Jimmy, “his favorite band is the Ramones, which is perfect. He’s writing songs and trying to form a band. Which
is very alarming, because I want him to be a doctor.”

From: SOUND BITES
A one-man alt-country show
By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 01/30/2003

He’s a singer, guitarist, painter, political activist, rock impresario, children’s entertainer. Tonight, the Welsh-born Chicagoan fronts a Canadian country-rock-surf-psychedelic band, the Sadies.

And that’s just one of three spots Jon Langford has on the T.T. the Bear’s bill. He’ll also be playing a solo opening set and co-leading the Waco Brothers

Juggling multiple acts is a way of life for Langford. Last year he took his best-known band, Mekons, out on the road for a hectic, three-month tour celebrating the group’s 25th anniversary. Along the way, he exhibited his art work and did bookstore readings. He was just here, performing a set of children’s music at First Night.

“The Mekons tour was pretty grueling,” Langford says from his Chicago studio. “I don’t know how this will be, but I’m pretty relaxed about it now.”

In touting his collaboration with the Sadies — whose disc “Mayors of the Moon” comes out on Tuesday — Langford issued a release stating: “Some pointed out, unkindly I’m sure, that had I really wished to present myself as older, grayer, stockier and less talented than I already am, the dramatic relief into this collaboration would throw me could not have been more perfect. I agreed.”

Those syntax-challenged words require a certain comfort with self-deprecation. “They’ll be whispering it anyway; might as well admit it,” Langford says with a laugh. Maybe. But there’s also this: Langford, a resident alien who is married with two children, has become a key cog in the Chicago alternative country scene, and the Bloodshot label that supports it.

Langford also contributes to the Johnsons and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts; he just recorded separate sessions with Richard Buckner and Kevin Coyne.

A longtime activist, Langford has focused lately on battling the death penalty. He was a key player in assembling the “Executioner’s Last Songs” compilation “Death (songs) vs. death,” he says. A second volume is planned.

“It’s a moral issue to me,” says Langford. “You don’t sanction the state to kill.” Last November in Washington, Langford was honored by the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty; at his table was the mother of murder victim Emmitt Till, Mamie Mobley (who died this month).

“I always thought music and politics should be involved with each other,” says Langford, ” but it’s a delicate balance I didn’t like to go into it blind.” Eschewing sloganeering, Langford says, “It’s more nuts and bolts, to see what you can achieve as a musician and artists.”

That said, Langford relishes his time spent in the Waco Brothers for other reasons. “There is very particular file in my brain,” he says. “I don’t want them to expand or deviate from that.”

To record with the Sadies — guitarists Travis and Dallas, bassist Bear, vibes player Critter, and drummer Snake — Langford went to their home town, Toronto. The lyrics are Langford’s, and typically clever. “My cup’s half full but my brain is empty/I’m overflowing in the land of plenty,” he sings in “Looking Good for Radio. “All messed up with somewhere to go/Looking good for radio.” The Wilco-esque Sadies, who shift from a sad country moans to full-tilt rock ‘n’ roll, wrote the music.

The results, heard on advance copy, are magnificent. Tonight’s triple-bill should be one of the best of the season.
Philadelphia Weekly – pick of the week (Feb 1st 2003)

Jon Langford & His Sadies, Waco Brothers

Longtime Mekons ringmaster Jon Langford doesn’t fancy rest-cures. Close on the heels of that group’s 100th record, OOOH! (or Out of Our Heads), Langford returns with new records from two of his extracurricular pursuits. The Mayors of the Moon, recorded with Toronto band the Sadies, is a winning collection of folk and galloping rockabilly. Langford’s sawdust voice can make a word as awkward as “pedantic” fit snugly inside a pop song, and songs like the blistering “American Pageant” have all the sweat and swagger of the Clash. New Deal, Langford’s sixth album with his group Waco Brothers, is even brasher–full of stomp, growl, square-dance violin and rodeo bass. Langford will be fronting both bands at a spectacular double-bill at the North Star, making for an evening that merges punk bravado with the grit of Americana. (J. Edward Keyes)
From: Umbrella Music:

What do you get when you mix a Welshman wordsmith with one of the hottest young Canadian surf-country bands? The answer is Mayors of the Moon – the latest stellar offering from Chicago’s insurgent country label Bloodshot Records.

Jon Langford, leader of The Mekons and co-founder of the Waco Brothers, journeyed east from the Windy City and “adopted” Toronto-based The Sadies to record these dozen honky-tonk tales of sorrow, reverie and solace. The album was recorded at Blue Rodeo’s Toronto studio in Greektown (The Woodshed) under the dual influences of Greg Keelor and his stock of fine port wine.

It’s appropriate that this libation was one of the muses that created Mayors of the Moon since this record, like a fine wine, gets better with age. With each subsequent listen, the music seeps under your skin; the driving guitar and violin of The Sadies’ Good Brothers (Dallas and Travis) grab hold of you with their hypnotic hooks, and your toes tap unconsciously to the countrified beat. One of the best tracks to pass the time is “Solitaire Song,” featuring some unforgettable upright bass picking.

The majority of the songs clock in at less than three minutes, but despite their brevity these musical moments linger much longer. Guest musicians include Bob Egan on pedal steel, and Sally Timms’ sleepy timbre on “Shipwreck.”

Langford’s lyrics are as cryptic as the Hip’s Gord Downie, but that is part of this songwriter’s charm – he keeps you guessing.

For those unfamiliar with either Langford or The Sadies, Mayors of the Moon offers the uninitiated a rare treat to hear their unique country-punk influenced sound on one record. Take a walk on this lunar journey, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- David McPherson

From Dimple Records:

Leave it to an expatriate Welshman and a ragtag band of Canucks to light a fire under the sputtering Americana scene: Langford, erstwhile leader of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, comes across like a modern day Woody Guthrie on these twelve tracks, waxing poetic on such weighty topics as love, murder, and the impending world war. Biting criticism—thinly veiled as barrelhouse country tunes like “What Makes Johnny Run?”—cuts to the heart of the matter, as Langford reels off a grocery list of horrible images, including “a big dollar sign where the stars used to be.” Who knew that anti-Bush rhetoric could make for such exhilarating music?

Led by brothers Dallas and Travis Good, the Sadies shift from western swing to Johnny Cash-inspired ballads with remarkable ease, masters of every variation on the country genre. Former Wilco sideman Bob Egan lends a wistful pedal steel solo to the waltz-time “Looking Good for Radio,” while Sally Timms—Langford’s Mekons bandmate—contributes her trademark siren vocals to the ethereal “Shipwreck.”

Langford’s black sense of humor and Celtic ancestry come to the forefront on the sing-along “Are You an Entertainer,” which closes out The Mayors of the Moon. His thick brogue a cross between Shane MacGowan and Joe Strummer at their drunken best, Langford laments the loneliness of the open road in this alt-country version of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” Guitars and fiddle swirl as Langford growls about “meeting all my new friends that I’ll never meet again,” then abruptly halt at the end of the last verse, when the curtain comes down. The show is over for now—but, as Langford makes clear, the story will never end.

FROM: Pop Matters

by Margaret Schwartz

It is oddly fitting that in this world of fractured genres, one man is called upon to support an entire scene. Welsh-born resident alien Jon Langford, whose band the Mekons helped define what the ’80s underground was all about (besides being among the first to venture into the now-well-populated cowpunk fields), has now lent what he admits are “older, stockier” shoulders to supporting the Chicago alt-country scene.

The Bloodshot Records catalogue would be sorely impoverished without Jon Langford’s contributions: the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the anti-death penalty compilation Executioner’s Last Songs. With his latest, Mayors Of The Moon, he’s teamed up with the Sadies, who are described by the label (sorry folks, but I couldn’t best this) as “Toronto’s fleet-fingered psychedelic, surf country spaghetti-westerners”.

Hands that play surf music must be nimble and slender, capable of flying over the strings in a flurry of feints and well timed sustains. What’s interesting on this album is that the virtuosity on display in this kind of music is slowed down and restrained, so as to be almost imperceptible to the untrained ear. There’s a lot of reverb and echo, but there’s also a fair amount of good old-fashioned honky-tonk twang. Alt-country insiders are sure to find this album a genre-bender; those of us whose tastes are a little more catholic may not necessarily find anything revolutionary.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though: many a purely experimental formula falls flat, making a good argument for the tried and true. With this somewhat cautious but nonetheless unique genred mixture, Langford’s rough-hewn tunesmithery stands out in sharp relief, with interestingly mixed results.

The husky quality of his voice works really well on upbeat numbers like “Drugstore”, but on others, such as the classic condemned-man number “Little Vampires”, you sometimes want to hear him nail home all the notes in the beautiful melody. The Sadies’ playing is often so reverb-heavy that it sounds like a wash. Sometimes I love hearing their guitar and vibes stream over Langford’s gravel and bark and at other times their smoothness and virtuosity just makes Langford sound like an oaf. Not that Langford wasn’t aware of this risk: he’s admitted in public that if he wanted to make himself sound older and clumsier than he actually was, the Sadies couldn’t be a better choice.

You’ve got to admire guts like that. The virtue of this album is not so much that it produced breathtakingly unexpected music. Rather, it is a genuine collaboration, warts and all, and as such a blueprint for what experimentation should really be all about: feeling something out, hitting and missing, seeing what happens.

I almost overlooked the Sadies’ excellent sense of rhythm, as it demonstrates to the tuned ear the kind of virtuosity that displays itself in subtlety. “Up to My Neck in This” showcases the drums in the introduction, which got me listening for other percussive moments, such as the shaker on “Drugstore”, or the rollicking up-tempo “Last King of the Road”. Truly the man listed only as “Critter” on the liner notes (a Muppets reference?) has a fine ear and a light touch.

That’s what’s going on musically; what’s far more interesting to me is the atmosphere the album creates lyrically. I’ve read that Langford found the recent 25th anniversary Mekons tour (for which the Sadies were the backing band) “grueling”. Mayors Of The Moon, from its title to its last track (“Are You An Entertainer”) both mourns and celebrates the road, with all its alienations and chance alliances. Over and over, the singing voice yearns for a relief to his loneliness, only to find it elusive or unsatisfying.

On “Drugstore” (the leadoff and my personal favorite), Langford sums up male/female relations in one wise couplet: “I was born to build this wall / So you could tear the whole thing down”. There’s all kinds of alienation here: between men and women, among friends (“I’ll put on an iron shirt / And walk out of the city / Back to the ones I love / The ones that won’t desert me”), between celebrity and public (“Looking Good for Radio”). Mayors Of The Moon is all about living light years away from home and hearth, both physically and emotionally: on the title track Langford sings that all the Mayor needs is “a place to hide / And green grass on the dark side”.

What makes Langford’s alienation more richly textured than most who tackle this universal theme is the inevitability and almost tenderness with which he portrays it. On “Little Vampires” he sings, “I love you but I see / Love has limits and boundaries”. Loneliness is part of the human condition, part of the odd bargain we make with our fellow humans in order to get along.

Most haunting in this regard is the duet with longtime friend and Mekon Sally Timms on “Shipwreck”. Timms’ celestially high voice weaves silver strands through the Sadies’ reverb/vibe wash and Langford’s gravel. The lyrics, ironically enough, are not about shipwreck as calamity but as a deliberate act of self-preservation: “Woke up into a sweeping storm / The tiller in my hand now / And drove this ship upon the rocks / Trying to reach dry land”.

How fitting for a man from the seafaring isles who has found himself a home in the prairie.

From: Music Now Torronto
SADIES CHALLENGE

BY TIM PERLICH

rarely is the outspoken jon Langford at a loss for words. But even for the prolific Mekons mouthpiece, the release of The Mayors Of The Moon (Bloodshot) disc just months after delivering critically lauded new albums from the Mekons and his boisterous Waco Brothers is an impressive feat of productivity. Of course, Langford can’t take full credit for the righteously ripping Mayors Of The Moon disc, a collaborative project with popular local twang terrors the Sadies. He came up with the lyrics he growls with that unique “r”-rolling Welsh-Chicagoan drawl of his, but it’s the quick-picking Sadies boys who provide the galloping soundtrack.

According to Langford, only the tune Strange Birds was written with the frantic fingers of the Sadies’ Dallas and Travis Good in mind. The compositional challenge was less in the process of creation than in that of excavation.

“When I write songs, there’s a well-defined area in my mind for what the Wacos do and what the Mekons do,” Langford explains from his Chicago hideout. “Sometimes I end up with songs I have no idea what to do with, and those I would typically save for a solo album.”

It was those song lyrics that didn’t fit anywhere that he used for the recording with the Sadies.

“I literally found them lying around — I was rummaging around the floor of my basement, picking up flood-damaged scraps of paper filled with blurry words. I gathered all those lyrics, shoved ‘em in a Jiffy bag and handed it to the Sadies, like, OK, let’s see what they do with these. That was it.”

It sounds like an uncharacteristically hands-off approach for someone with Langford’s reputation as a control freak. But that was a large part of the project’s appeal. Once the Sadies had the songs worked out, Langford would just have to sing them. Piece of cake, right? Not quite.

“It was interesting for me to give up the reins. I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak, but when I work with people, I’m hands-on and it’s very much a collaboration from beginning to end.

“With this project, I just let the Sadies do what they do. I didn’t even hear any of their song ideas until we met up at Travis’s farm outside Toronto.”

Langford was in for a surprise when he arrived. Because the Sadies like to keep everything spontaneous, they hadn’t recorded any demos. Dallas Good had to sing Langford the songs so he could hear their arrangements.

“The idea of going into the studio not being that familiar with the material was a bit scary. Fortunately, Greg Keelor from Blue Rodeo showed up with an expensive bottle of port. That was helpful.”

Considering the comfortable coherence of the results — which benefit from the tasteful support play of Blue Rodeo’s Bob Egan and James Gray — you’d never guess that The Mayors Of The Moon was essentially completed during one heavily clouded booze-up of a weekend blitz.

“The session was a very Frank Sinatra kind of thing. I showed up at the studio, sang my songs, shook hands with the musicians and was off.”

Since then, Langford has been back at work composing songs for the next Sally Timms album, which Timms has asked him to write from a woman’s perspective. “I was thinking of plagiarizing heavily from a book of women’s poetry,” chortles Langford.

But lately most of his song ideas have been inspired by the looming threat of another Gulf War.

“Alarming things are going on in America. When you have right-wing militarists and CEOs of oil companies running the government, where better to attack than an oil-rich country like Iraq?

“Mussolini said fascism should really be called “corporatism,’ because it’s the merger of corporate and state power. That sounds exactly like what we’ve got now.”
From: Rockzillaworld:

By William Michael Smith
Jon Langford seems to always be in a recording studio these days, although a look at the gaunt portraits of legendary musicians inside south Austin’s Yard Dog art studio reveals that he also paints prolifically. With an ever-changing cast of honky-punk musical collaborators, the burly Welshman who leads the pioneering British punk band The Mekons (whose Fear and Whiskey is considered a milestone in both punk and the emergent alt-country scenes) has spent much of the past 25 years celebrating country music by interpolating, reinventing, and, most importantly, just loudly playing the hell out of it. Long affiliated with insurgent country label Bloodshot, Langford has been pointing out through his art and his music for years that we Americans tend to discard our best and elevate our worst — and he’s not just describing the Grammys.

Rapidly following New Deal, the best record yet by Langford’s Mekons side project The Waco Brothers, Mayors of the Moon is a delicious unholy pairing between Langford and one of Canada’s most eclectic alt-country bands, The Sadies. Together they poke and prod at some of our national cultural and political pretensions with songs like “What Makes Johnny Run?” and “American Pageant.” The album was completed well before the current Iraqi situation and Langford demonstrated considerable prescience with “Call me Abel Baker, I’m fodder for the cause / I hang banners on the engines as they move off to war.” Charlie Daniels and Clint Black aren’t likely to cover any of Langford’s pointed anti-war anthems.

Langford is at his best rocking hard on tracks like “Up To My Neck In This” or spewing jaded commentaries like “Solitaire Song” and “Looking Good For Radio,” where he contemptuously describes the promotional circus: “There’s no good time to talk to me / but there’s a little window when I talk lucidly / between 2:55 and 3 / all drugged up with a posse in tow / lookin’ good for radio.” His painter’s eye is wide open on emotive near-country tracks like “Last King of the Road” and “Little Vampires,” with its bubbling neo-Byrds veneer that sounds as if it were lifted from the latest Sadies’ album, Stories Often Told.

Those who can get past a middle-aged left-leaning Welsh punk rocker and a band of spaghetti-western-theme crazed Cannucks doing pointed social critiques of the homeland that requires security will find the most consistent solo record of Jon Langford’s career.

FROM: Austin Chronicle
Phases and Stages

BY JERRY RENSHAW

Mayor of the Moon (Bloodshot) One of the great strengths of Bloodshot’s Canadian journeymen the Sadies has always been their versatility. They can knuckle down and bust out some squawky rock, go ramrod-straight and play like Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, or lay it down behind the beat and back up soulster Andre Williams. In this effort with Welsh leftist torchbearer/Waco Brother/Mekon Jon Langford, they cover all the bases and then some. There’s the garagey bravado of “American Pageant” (with a spritz of Langford’s lyrical vitriol), the spaghetti-Western groove of “Little Vampires,” the alt-punk stomp of “Up to My Neck in This,” the Memphis rockabilly of “Solitaire Song” (complete with pedal steel and a Bo Diddley middle break). Bloodshot stablemate and longtime Langford collaborator Sally Timms puts in a welcome appearance on “Shipwreck,” all drifting spookiness and foggy recollection. Langford’s strength has always been his gift for lyrics, taking his politics and sublimating them into poetry, then voicing it all with a Joe Strummer-ish holler. Suffice to say that he’s in good form here. The promise of alt.country has collapsed in the last few years as more and more timid, mopey bands contemplate their navels and cower in fear of actually turning up their amps lest they “rock,” god forbid. The Sadies and Langford provide a healthy, literate antidote to that on Mayor of the Moon.
From: Philadelphia City Paper Net
Time and Tide

Jon Langford talks about death and going it alone.

by Sam Adams

Depending on how you count, Jon Langford has as many as three new albums out, and when City Paper catches up with him, he’s hard at work on yet another. Towards the end of last year, The Mekons, the revolving-cast group of anarchist art-punks Langford’s been a part of since their inception, celebrated their 25th anniversary with the release of OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (Quarterstick). Meanwhile, the hard-rocking Waco Brothers released New Deal (Bloodshot), with Langford taking lead vocals on a good portion of the songs. And, as if that weren’t enough, here comes The Mayors of the Moon (Bloodshot), featuring Langford backed up by Toronto’s multifaceted Sadies. It’s surprising he has time to breathe, let alone talk.

But for a man who releases albums with such alarming frequency, it’s a little surprising that Langford’s come up with only two solo albums in his long career, the other being 1998′s Skull Orchard. It turns out that despite his prolific discography — which also includes a handful of albums from the Three Johns, as well as work with the countryish Pine Valley Cosmonauts — Langford isn’t all that comfortable writing songs on his own. “I’m good at writing Waco Brothers tunes, [which are] basically fairly derivative, extremely immediate three-chord thrashes,” he says, calling from the studio. That restricts the kinds of lyrics Langford can set to music, but if he’s a self-confessed slouch in the melody department, no such limitations apply to his lyric writing.

Enter The Sadies, led by brothers Travis and Dallas Good, who in addition to releasing four albums of their own — including the brand-new Stories Often Told (Yep Roc) — are a multifaceted backing band extraordinaire, having hit the road with Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and Andre Williams. Langford tapped The Sadies, who not incidentally opened The Mekons’ 25th anniversary shows as a Mekons tribute band, to score a number of lyrics he’d been working on over the years but had never been able to set to music himself. “I had quite a lot of lyrics that were sitting around, and I didn’t quite know what to do with them,” he recalls. “I sort of handed a jiffy bag over to them with about 15 pieces of paper in it, and they came back with these interesting melodies I had to go and sing.”

The results often surprised him, particularly on the album’s third track, “Looking Good for Radio.” “I thought it was funny when I wrote it, three verses of a song that would probably be about 30 seconds long — kind of yelled and stupid, and totally glib,” Langford says. “It was just a novelty song, the sort of thing you look at the next day and feel embarrassed to have written. But with a little bit of tweaking and a middle eight stuck in, and the way Travis wrote the music, it ended up this poignant thing.”

If Mayors of the Moon doesn’t precisely wax confessional, songs like the lilting “Strange Birds” and the spectral “Shipwreck” show a more reflective side of Langford than the Wacos’ drunken anthems or The Mekons’ cryptic ramblings. But if the album puts Langford’s politics on the back burner, it’s hardly a permanent shift. This is, after all, a man who’s prone to remind audiences before he covers “Joshua Gone Barbados” that the song’s about striking Jamaican plantation workers, and who was recently honored for his part in releasing The Executioner’s Last Songs, Vol. 1, a compilation benefiting the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project. As we talk, he’s getting ready to record soul singer Otis Clay for volume two, tentatively scheduled for May, which will go to the same cause on a national level. (Other planned contributors include Mark Eitzel, Dave Alvin and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner.) Not surprisingly, Langford has nothing but praise for outgoing Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who recently commuted the sentences of every prisoner on the state’s death row after the commission he appointed found the state’s death penalty to be critically flawed. “There’s a lot of small-minded Chicago prosecutors who are determined to get somebody back on death row, because their penises have shriveled to the size of beans,” Langford says wryly. “But I’m sure George Ryan is going to take more notice of Nelson Mandela phoning him up and telling him what a good thing he did than a bunch of small-minded little bigots.”

If he’s not likely to see a sudden upsurge in album sales any time soon, Langford has carved out his own special place in the universe — which is where that album title comes from. “To be the mayor of the moon would be kind of cool,” Langford muses, “but there wouldn’t be anyone to lord it over. Me and The Sadies are kind of like that in a funny way; we’ve got our own little areas that we’re like the kings of, but there’s nobody there to be impressed.”

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