Editors' pick

Jon Langford and Skull Orchard

Rock
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Editorial Review

JON LANGFORD & SKULL ORCHARD
Album review: "Old Devils"

When Britain's punky Mekons first dabbled in country music, it seemed a passing interest. But 25 years later, Mekons mainstay Jon Langford is still at it, writing beer-stained laments that rival Nashville classics. Langford's latest album, "Old Devils," includes a couple of numbers that would upgrade the repertoires of country veterans such as Merle Haggard.

The Welsh-born singer-songwriter, who now lives in Chicago, hasn't abandoned his other interests, which include rock-and-roll, figurative painting and British colonial history. "Old Devils" includes songs about art ("Self Portrait") and slavery and piracy ("Pieces of the Past"), as well as several upbeat tunes that allow Skull Orchard, Langford's backup trio, to put the punk into cow-punk. (Also on the album are fellow Mekon Sally Timms and D.C. singer-violinist Jean Cook.)

Yet the songs that linger most vividly are the defeated "Luxury" and the heartbroken "Book of Your Life." "I was the hero of the story," Langford sings on the latter, "but halfway through I died/Another character took over/He had all the good lines." That last part isn't exactly true. "Old Devils" proves there's much morbid satisfaction in losing the girl, hitting the bar and scrawling some great lines.

- Mark Jenkins, Nov. 2010