Lambchop

TrackAlbum
Up With PeopleNixon
TheöneHow I Quit Smoking
My Blue WaveIs A Woman
Paperback BibleDamaged
I Will Drive SlowlyI Hope You’'re Sitting Down
Slipped, Dissolved and LoosedOH (Ohio)
I Believe In YouOH (Ohio)
Gone TomorrowMr M
The Fade Away JumperTreasure Chest Of The Enemy
Being TylerAw Cmon

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

It’s amazing how one song can lead you to seek a whole body of work. Back in 2000, Robert Elms regularly opened his BBC London radio show with Up With People from Nixon (Lambchop’s 5th album). Every time I heard it I thought to explore the band and find out more. Coincidentally, at this time I was exchanging music with a colleague in an effort to expand each other’s musical taste. I presented him with Bluehorses and he presented me with a copy of Nixon, and so began a 14 year journey during which I have sporadically collected the majority of Lambchop’s recorded output. My collection includes some ‘tour only’ material and a bootleg recorded in Nuremberg in October 2008.

Lambchop centre around Kurt Wagner, his songwriting, unique voice and guitar. They are based in Wagner’s home town, that musical hotbed of Nashville. Originally a trio and then for a while a variable but large group of musicians sometimes up into the teens, the arrangements are understated and the lyrics always clever and interesting. Wagner himself was a visual artist prior to forming the band; the artwork on the newest album Mr M is all from a series of his work called Beautillion Militaire 2000. Meanwhile, the band in recent years has contracted to a core five piece. As Wagner has put it, the economics of maintaining a large band are impossible.

Lambchop were originally categorised as ‘alternative country’ but draw their influences from so many different styles. The website Allmusic, refers to them as “arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s” and I am not inclined to disagree. As a teenager, Kurt Wagner would sneak into bluegrass clubs in Nashville and was blown away by the energy of the music. Although Lambchop’s music is more measured and less frenetic, occasionally this influence seeps through.

The band has released into the mainstream eleven studio albums since 1994, a number of compilations and several recordings (albums and EPs) that were only available from the merchandise stands at tours although some have made it into the ‘downloadsphere’. The ten here are a very personal selection and arranged as a playlist, not based on any conscious effort to be representative. This is my Lambchop car CD, and whilst I may not drive slowly, I will drive carefully!

Up With People as noted above is the first Lambchop song I heard, and the whole of the Nixon album is written with Watergate and the Richard Nixon Presidency in mind. This is one of those rare albums without a track on it that you consider ‘filler’.

Back to the recorded beginning, 1994, and I Hope You’re Sitting Down (aka Jack’s Tulips) announced Lambchop on the scene having had to change their name from Posterchild after threats of litigation from the management of the band, Posterboy. And what a brilliant languid debut album it is. I Will Drive Slowly sums up the whole album. A lilting tune and a clever lyric. You could argue the follow-up How I Quit Smoking (1996) is a bit samey and I understand why, but Theöne is an outstanding song.

Album number three, Thriller (1997), was given its title as a reference to the Michael Jackson album of the same name being one of the biggest selling of all time compared to the poor sales of the first two from Lambchop. The joke continued on the parallel EP, Hank, with its track Blame It On The Brunettes. It is my least favourite of the band’s releases.

What Another Man Spills (1998) was a return to form although half the tracks on the album were not written by Kurt Wagner. The opening track, the Wagner composed Interrupted, would have made a 15. It is a sublime piece of jazz. The album includes a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Give Me Your Love (Love Song) complete with soaring strings and Wagner’s best falsetto showing the range of the band.

The follow-up to Nixon was Is A Woman (2002) and the outstanding track is again the longest. Running just short of eight minutes, My Blue Wave summarises what Lambchop are all about; perfectly understated when they need to be with a quintessentially beautiful lyric. In 2004, Lambchop effectively released a double album. Aw Cmon and No You Cmon were simultaneously released as two single albums and both are fine collections. I had to have an instrumental to illustrate Kurt Wagner’s arrangement abilities and Being Tyler got the gig, as they say.

In 2001, Lambchop released one of those ‘tour only’ albums. Treasure Chest Of The Enemy is a fine outing and has the upbeat The Fade Away Jumper and the introspective My Gettysburg Address with eight other tracks that were hitherto unavailable until the advent of downloads. In the same year a compilation of rarities Tools In The Dryer was issued which contains the experimental Petrified Florist and Scared Out Of My Shoes, I just couldn’t make room for either. The album also has Cigaretiquette that proudly boasts Wagner is smoking again – the antithesis of the second album.

Lambchop’s ninth album was Damaged (2006) and it was difficult narrowing down the choices but the opening track is just so strong that, despite multiple listens, Paperback Bible just made the list ahead of the strangeness of Crackers.

2008 brought OH (Ohio) with its ‘X-rated’ cover painting. Slipped, Dissolved and Loosed is the outstanding track of an outstanding album but the message in I Believe In You is so powerful I had to have both. Grab yourself a copy, do nothing else other than listen to the whole album end to end uninterrupted. You will not be disappointed!

Lambchop’s most recent studio album is 2012’s Mr M dedicated to Wagner’s friend and fellow musician Vic Chestnutt (1964-2009). I have chosen the lament of Gone Tomorrow; I could have had any one of the eleven tracks.

In an interview with Michael Hann of The Guardian in February 2012, following the release of Mr M, Wagner ponders the longevity of the band:

How long Lambchop can continue to make music people will want to hear is preying upon Wagner’s mind. “Realistically in five years I will be 60, or close to it. Is that something someone’s gonna want to see or care about?” he wonders. But it’s now 12 years since he gave up laying floors to become a full-time musician, “and now I’m starting to wonder what else I’m fit for at this point in my life, and I honestly can’t think of much else.”

They don’t come to the UK very often, grab them when they do.

 

Lambchop official website

Lambchop biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #220

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Mar 11, 2014

    Thanks for directing me into a day of Lambchop, Ian. Excellent. I quite like Thriller though. My favourite track on Thriller is “Your Fucking Sunny Day” with its great horn parts and propulsive rhythm, it sounds like Was Not Was on flat-out form, and it might make a ten for me (not that I’ve thought ten through). Hey, Where’s Your Girl is another good song. But then you get the actual track Thriller which is ambient avant-garde noises if I’m in a charitable mood, or noodling around aimlessly if I’m not. Sometimes I like Lambchop quietly noodling with whispered vocal, but today I prefer them rocking a tad. Will probably be on Lambchop for a couple of days now and comment again … they’ve been gathering dust of late.

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