Jon Langford & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts

Executioner's Last Songs

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It's a great idea, an album to benefit the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project, and who better to execute it (pun intended) than the linchpin of the Chicago alt-country movement, Mekons and Waco Brother member Jon Langford? He's reassembled the occasional Pine Valley Cosmonauts to back a bunch of artists on tales of death, murder, and execution. There's everything from the traditional and gruesome ("Knoxville Girl" from Brett Sparks and a very powerful, gritty "Tom Dooley" by Steve Earle, as graphic as any gangsta rap) to straight-up country (Johnny Paycheck's "Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)," which these days stands almost as a parody of a country song, albeit a chilling one), all the way to standards (post-punk feminist icon Jenny Toomey on a lovely acoustic rendition of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets"), punk (the Adverts' "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" interpreted by Dean Schlabowske), and originals (Johnny Dowd's "Judgement Day," among others). It's an odd assemblage, but it hangs together very well, not just because of the thematic content, but also the intensity of the performances, like Edith Frost's luminous "Sing Me Back Home" or Dianne Izzo's raw take on "Oh Death." Apart from contributing guitar and some vocals throughout, Langford does get a couple of moments in the spotlight, duetting on the Dowd cut, then on "The Plans We Made," a tale of love gone awfully wrong that he sings with fellow Mekon Sally Timms. There's no bad cut here, although Tony Fitzpatrick's "Idiot Whistle" proselytizes a little too much, and "The Hangman's Song" from Christa Meyer and Tim Kelley of Puerto Muerto is just plain weird. But this album makes its points in very plain, blunt terms, and offers some excellent music along the way. If you still don't think music and politics can mix, start here. ~ Chris Nickson, Rovi

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