I'm a whore for odds and sods releases. When done right, they're perfect albums in and of themselves; serving a better picture of a bands existence than your standard, run-of-the-mill "greatest hits" collections. Sometimes, they can serve as a strong record for a band whose previous releases have been, at best, spotty and mediocre. In some instances, those rarities collections have even served as the best kind of introduction to a band I had previously not cared for. Throw in the fact that the band in question is weirder than hell, and you're bound for a ride that's at least going to be interesting to experience.
Lambchop's first full length compilation, Tools In the Dryer, is a scrapbook of "A-sides, B-Sides, Live Tracks, and Remixes," culled from sources such as 7" singles, split singles, compilation tracks, and super-limited, ultra-rare cassettes Thus said, let's get the one major complaint out of the way.: This compilation is far from a complete collection. For a band with such a long, wide, and varied discography, there'd be no way to fit all of their "A-Sides, B-Sides, Live Tracks, and Rarities" on to a single disc. That's a negative point now, but just think of the future: This kind of collection will happen again!!!.
Kicking off the set is "Nine," the A-side of Lambchop's first official release on Merge. It's an interesting little pop song, not sounding like the Lambchop we know and love. Its a guitar-based affair, with as many "doot doot dooots" as a Stereolab record. (The B-side, "Moody Fucker," is the song that closes out the collection. It's those little touches of detail that move my heart.) Two more A-sides follow, "Whitey", a little ballad about country comedian Whitey Ford, and "Cigaretiquette," a funny little tune about smoking that shows the birth of that country-meets-motown soul sound that would soon become a predominating style of the band.
What follows next is "Miss Prissy," a B-side from a European release, but it's much more than that---its a key to understanding Lambchop. It's a cover of a Vic Chesnutt jewel, which the band recorded in hopes of getting on the Sweet Relief tribute/benefit album. Wagner and company are friends with Chesnutt, and Lambchop even backed up the man on his album, The Salesman and Bernadette, but upon listening to "Miss Prissy" you realize that the band owe much of their style to Mr. Chesnutt. Methinks its the sublimely silly lyrics, but more than once since hearing the song, have I been known to sing to myself "she likes to do the bouncey-wouncey" and "knuckles on a cheese grater." In the liner notes, Jonathan Marx mentions that when Lambchop toured with Vic Chesnutt, they suggested playing "Miss Prissy," but Chesnutt didn't seem to think that the song was "right." This segues nicely into "The Petrified Forest," another song that Lambchop didn't think was right, and was a source of frustration in the studio. Damn perfectionists....
For "Each With A Bag of Fries," reminds me a lot of Scott Walker, sans the lustfully angelic vocals. It's a lo-fi song, from one of their many self-released cassettes. It's an acoustic-based song, with guitar, vocal, and, for rhythm----tape hiss. It's that imperfection that makes it perfect. "All Around The World"--an even older song, appears next, and it really reminds, in all of its lo-fi, home recorded and poorly mixed glory, of a Daniel Johnson song. "Flowers of Memory" is a live track from 1990, and it strikes the listener of the fact that Lambchop, aside from all of their blending and melding of sounds and styles, are a country band at heart.
Skipping ahead, the best part of Tools in the Dryer are the last few songs. The tracks that surprised me the most were the remixes of songs .With "Up With People," their label City Slang wanted to introduce Lambchop to a larger audience, so they commissioned a remix, and the Zero 7 remix was the B-side. It's a mellow, jazzy R&B remix, labeled as a reprise. What struck me most about this tune was how radio-friendly it seemed; I do remember a point in time in my life when this kind of song was played on the radio. Then there's "Give Me Your Love," which is a full-throttle, funk/dance version of a Curtis Mayfield track.
The most telling of the songs on here would have to be "Love TKO," a live track from a tenth anniversary birthday party festival for City Slang, their European label. Backed by a string section, this track shows that Lambchop can do what so many other bands can't do--pull it off live.
Tools In The Dryer is, by far, one of the best compilation albums I've heard in a while; it certainly stands its own amongst the other coloful, storied Lambchop albums. While there were a few ommissions that would have been nice to have, I can only assume that this 15+ member band will be saving volume two for that time after releasing their follow-up to Nixon and recording their next work of art. Can I say that that's too long and too short of a wait?