The Waco Brothers

The Waco Brothers are not from that infamous Texas town, nor are they brothers. What we have here is a band of post-punk Chicagoans led by Brit Jon Langford, lead singer of the still-viable and as-acerbic-as-always Mekons. Langford started the Wacos to satisfy his sincere fondness for American roots music, and these days it's getting harder to tell which is his side gig.

"New Deal," the Wacos' sixth album since 1995, finds the loose and ragged band in high spirits, with guitars and pedal steels a-blazing on some of their best songs yet.

Many of the songs seem to be about living the renegade life, although "Johnson to Jones" is a whimsical punk-country description of a December-May relationship (she's 65, he's 23), and "I'm a Ghost" somewhat traditionally addresses the passing of a relationship.

The diverse instrumentation on "New Deal" enlivens things immensely.

It's clear most of the players are from rock bands. A lilting piano opens "Poison," but by the song's end a sneaky and propulsive brass section has taken over; mandolin and fiddle easily snake in and out of songs, always in welcome support. Sometimes the Wacos suggest a horseback-borne "Sticky Fingers"-era Rolling Stones -- the bluesy, steel-drenched "New Moon" is a cousin of "Dead Flowers" -- but "Blink of an Eye" sounds like the Clash channeled through Cash. "New Deal" is the real deal.

-- Buzz McClain


The Streets

Laced with Brit slang and minimalist hip-hop beats, the debut album of 21-year-old bedroom DJ Mike Skinner crackles and pops seedily along like an Irving Welsh novel put to music.

Skinner's songs -- usually nothing more than a drum kick, spongy electronics and some brooding strings -- focus on pubs and clubs, fights with drug dealers and girlfriends and the general state of disaffected youth, always hinting at the human condition beneath it all. The album was released earlier this year in England and was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize, awarded annually to the best British album. But despite the critical acclaim, the album hasn't sold amazingly well. Perhaps that's because, for all the styles he works with and has been influenced by, Skinner doesn't fit neatly into a marketing niche. Case in point: "The Irony of It All," a 3 1/2-minute hip-hopera in the form of dialogue between Terry, a bawdy alcoholic, and Tim, a pacifist pot smoker, who debate the relative merits and legal status of their predilections to hilarious effect.

With his wry wit and powerful pen, Skinner taps into the depth and tension of an entire generation of young adults. For forward-thinking music fans and those tired of the bling in today's rap, "Original Pirate Material's" heady blend of cynicism and hope, hip-hop and edgy electronica is the sound of now.

-- Bill Werde

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8174.)

The Waco Brothers, above, and Mike Skinner of the Streets, below.