February 06, 2002

Lambchop "Is a Woman"

It's a Friday night. I'm sitting here at home, lights down low. The week has passed, and now it's time for relaxation. It's also the day after Valentine's Day. No matter; as I have indulged a singular lifestyle choice, the day means nothing to me. So, with Southern Comfort in hand, I turn down the lights, and decide to relax with a smooth drink and a beautiful, romantic record. Fortunately for me, there's the new Lambchop album, Is A Woman, that needs to be reviewed. Based on my experiences with Lambchop's previous releases, Nixon and the odds-and-sods collection Tools in the Dryer, I think I can say with certainty that Lambchop make records that are best enjoyed with lights down low and a good glass of Southern Comfort.

As someone from Merge loves me, I received this album with a press bio. Promising that the album is "a new and exciting direction," and with the use of words such as "beauty," "heartbreak," and "intimate," the choice seems rather clear as to what the soundtrack of my life will be for tonight--a night where, feeling slightly tired, I want my soundtrack to make me feel loved, warm, and, most importantly, Southern. After all, just this afternoon I realized that, though I reside in Texas, I'm geographically closer to L.A. than I am to Nashville. That, my friends, disturbs me greatly. Although being Southern has its privileges, it also has its share of responsibilities, and staying true to one's roots is most important.

On first listen to Is A Woman, I was completely overwhelmed. Indeed, the press bio was far from purple prose; indeed, the loudly quiet tones of opener "The Daily Growl" not only seemed distant from Nixon's gospel-tinged R&B flavor--it seemed like a different band entirely. Instead of the quirky crooning of Lambchop past, I heard a much quieter, less oblique Kurt Wagner. Has he given up on the Motown muse that seemed to work to his advantage, or had he decided to trade in all the references to "alt-country," "R&B" and "indie-rock" for a quiet life as a piano bar crooner? Didn't really matter; this new sound was very solemn, very emotional, very passionate--and very, very romantic. I was firmly accepting their new sound, and then, fifteen seconds later, came the line "The guts and gluttony/.the chicken of the sea," and I breathed a sigh of relief. Lambchop's sound had changed, but the roots of the band--the odd world view of Kurt Wagner--stayed true.

Don't think Wagner's not aware of what the world will think of the change; as he sings at the end of the aptly titled "Caterpillar," "yeah I know you heard me yelling out a name you never used for me," the change is far from a surprise--it's to be expected. Is A Woman is a quiet, jazzy affair. For a band that, apparently, is larger now than its previous incarnation, the album is so low-key, that you would be justified in thinking that that Wagner was backed by a simple bass/percussion trio. As Is A Woman is piano-based, it's a much less hurried affair than anything that's come before. I can't really think of any one artist or album to compare Is A Woman to, and that, in itself, is a sign of Lambchop's brilliance.

You've heard Is A Woman before, I swear--it's music that constitutes life and love and family. Wagner and his orchestra have tapped into and traveled deep into the soul of music and are simply showing you their scrapbooks from the journey. I could try to explain the meanings of lines such as "the link between profound and pain/Covers you like Sherwin Williams," but like my pa always used to say--"If it has to be explained to ya, then ya just don't know." So true, so real.

--Joseph Kyle

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