I was going to write a post about how I think the apparently inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate is a tragic mistake of historic proportions for the Democratic party, given that it appears to be uniting the GOP at at time when they are in disarray and that it allows the GOP candidates to avoid talking about issues as they shift the focus to Hillary Clinton and how awful things will be if she becomes president. I didn't think you all wanted to read about that, and I decided I sure as hell didn't feel like writing about it. So, I decided to write about something I have been enjoying as opposed to ranting about something that frightens me and makes me worry. Heh! Here goes...
Once in a while I discover a band I've never heard before and I think "How in hell did I miss this one?"
That's what has happened to me when I recently heard Lambchop's 2006 CD "Damaged" for the first time. I was intrigued by the CD cover and by how I kept reading good reviews of their stuff, so I took a flyer and bought "Damaged"... and I love it.
Lambchop is a Nashville band that has been around for at least 10 years, and while I tend not to go for stuff that is country-ish, this band has proven to be an exception for me. I'm not really sure they're country... I find them hard to describe, but let me try:
Lambchop's singer/songwriter is Kurt Wagner, who sort of sings and sort of whispers the vocals in a weary voice that suggests a tired melancholia but also suggests some humor. Wagner writes about life's minutiae, but he does so in a way that brings deeper senses of meaning to the ordinary. As for the rest of the band, they are impeccable in their patient, understated approach as they deliver an accompaniment that is at once simple and complex. There are anywhere from eight or nine all the way up to seventeen band members, but the music never sounds cluttered. There is nothing flashy about it, and as every note serves a purpose, there are no notes wasted. Take a listen, and what at first sounds simple is revealed as something deeply organic with many moving parts. Styles range from Chet Atkins-style "countrypolitan" to late 60's Nashville pop stylings ala Glen Campbell and Bobby Gentry to alt-country to folk to rock to jazz influences. You will hear nice string arrangements, tasteful and atmospheric pedal and lap steel guitars, good acoustic and electric guitar and bass playing, some great piano colorings, and lots of emotional energy.
In my opinion, "Damaged" is a work of art. The opening track "Paperback Bible" is based on a public radio program Wagner heard called "Swap Shop", and while that sounds like a rather risky lyrical adventure, it works well with Wagner imparting a sense of loss through his vocal phrasing and delivery. Spiritual loss, material loss? Both? Apparently Wagner has had some personal difficulties during the past year, and many of the lyrics on "Damaged" were written during those tough times. Nonetheless, he manages to add some humor here and there.
After hearing "Damaged", I found used copies of a twin-release from 2004, "Aw Cmon" and its companion album "No You Cmon". While not as consistently good throughout as "Damaged", these discs, both released on the same day but released as separate albums, do contain some gems. "Aw Cmon" features several spirited instrumentals, including one named "Timothy B. Schmidt" after the Poco and Eagles musician. The album's final track "Action Figure" evokes all kinds of thoughts and emotions. Lambchop uses occasional electronica that is included at a nearly subliminal level but to great effect, as in "Action Figure". A highlight from "No You Cmon is "About My Lighter", which sounds like it is really about a guy's lighter, but could be about much more than that. The lyrics during the musically-dramatic chorus are " Please don't worry, Guess that I'm worried, Don't be worried, You look worried, Lets not worry, We're not worried, Try not to worry, About my lighter." While that certainly doesn't seem profound when I read it, I only have to hear Kurt Wagner sing it to find myself peeling away layers of his AND my feelings, and finding that those feelings, combined with his music, twang a string or two inside me. Wonderful stuff, and lately I can't get it out of my CD player if I try.
Lambchop is a fairly widely-recognized band, from what I gather. It is probably one of those that is more critically acclaimed than one that sells lots of records. However, Lambchop and Kurt Wagner can now officially count me as an entusiastic follower, and I will buy more of their CDs. I recommend Lambchop's "Damaged", "Aw Cmon" and "No You Cmon" as a good rainy-day or late-night listen for anyone who likes thoughtful music, who doesn't mind having their brain tickled a little, and who likes a good quality musical production.
Now I need to go delve into their "back catalog"! There are still seven or eight of their CDs I haven't heard! If any of you have heard this band or heard of them and know about some of their releases I haven't mentioned here, please share!