In Rotation: Nashville country band Lambchop's 'Mr. M'
In Rotation: Lambchop's "Mr. M." A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers and contributors are listening to right now...
Don’t pop on Nashville country-politan group Lambchop’s new album, “Mr. M,” if you’re looking for a party, because you may end up 50 minutes later drunk and asleep on the host’s basement couch. Leader-singer-songwriter Kurt Wagner’s voice is glum and whispery, and he wears his mumbly twang like a beat-up sweater. Within a few moments of “If Not I’ll Just Die,” the first song on his band’s new record, he cusses, dismisses someone’s conversation, sighs audibly, complains about “Grandpa’s coffin in the kitchen” and, in what seems like internal monologue, decides that he should discuss “seagulls — just talk about seagulls.” As this activity is occurring, swells of strings drape Wagner’s voice in beauty, transforming his vocal character into velvet.
Dedicated to Wagner’s late friend and collaborator Vic Chesnutt, “Mr. M” is Lambchop’s 11th studio album since 1994, and one of its best. The group, which has swelled to as many as 15 members over the years, has featured some of Nashville’s most able session players to craft lush music that hits on 1960s Nashville country and western music and 1970s soul. The connection: the use of horns, strings and choirs to add rich texture to the basic guitar, bass, piano, drum — and in the case of country, pedal steel — instrumentation.
But rather than write about love, Wagner uses lyrics to craft little set pieces, sung narratives that reward listeners with wonderful witticisms. “Gone Tomorrow” takes place on the final night of a production, when everyone is bidding farewell. “Buttons” begins with this whopper of a line: “I won’t be connected or be easily infected by the growing sense of self-inflicted routine in our day,” the feeling of which he then describes as “a metaphoric housing bubble.” These hidden gems pepper “Mr. M” with a sense of quiet beauty and joy, despite Wagner’s serial pessimism.
-- Randall Roberts