At Shows, Lambchop’s 15th studio album, Kurt Wagner spends an afternoon contemplating an old standard. “I listen to this ‘Old Devil Moon’ and the day outside slowly passes me by,” he sings over “Blue Leo,” his voice subtly distorted to a rhythm changing shape. On another verse from the same song, he’s at the supermarket picking vegetables when he hears “By the time I get to Phoenix”, just as the sprays come on. “The group gets wet,” he said impassively. These are small moments that evoke larger feelings and ideas – a specialty of Wagner – and in this case, the overall concept is how our favorite songs can have long, fun conversations with our innermost thoughts.
As a leader of Lambchop and, of late, the sole guiding force, Wagner has always been an attentive listener, listening to the world of sounds and songs that surround him. On the early albums, “Nashville’s craziest country band” (as their label described it) did frequent covers of songs from their friends (East River Pipe) as well as deep cuts from their heroes (Curtis Mayfield). With the notable exception of last year’s cover album TRIP, Lambchop rarely plays other people’s music. Today, Wagner is more likely to sing about a song than it is to sing this song, but on Showtunes, he plants these references in his lyrics so strategically that the music seems to be an unstoppable force, as pervasive as kudzu but certainly not malignant. Listening is the central theme of the album – the pleasure of processing the sound, the comfort of a familiar song, the way a melody or instrument can remind you that you are alive and breathing the air of the earth, even if you are just skidding. home or buy okra. Wagner just assumes that any Lambchop fan naturally feels a similar joy or consolation. “Are you listening?” goes the sample that opens the concealed “Drop C”, to which the sampled crowd responds, “Yes! “
Showtunes feels like the third act in a trilogy of albums that deconstructed the Lambchop sound, reassembled it slightly akimbo, and changed the way we hear this band. Working alone at home or with a very small group of collaborators who are not necessarily band members, Wagner has tinkered with technology to give new forms to his songs without sacrificing warmth, spirit or humanity. It has been an extremely productive phase, with FLOTUS and This is what I wanted to tell you sitting among the best albums to have Lambchop’s name on the spine. Wagner, to his credit, doesn’t seem to view these recent albums as a break with the band’s early days as a sprawling orchestra, but rather as an extension of the go-anywhere philosophy that has defined the band for nearly 30 years.
To create these new songs, Wagner first recorded guitar tracks, then converted them to piano sounds via MIDI, re-editing them afterwards. These new sounds changed the nature of music, which he described as Fader recently as “show tunes for people who don’t like show tunes,” echoing a sentiment many still apply to country music. He was planning on making his stage debut, working with Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Poliça), Andrew Broder (Fog) and German producer Twit One to develop arrangements for the Eaux Claires festival in 2020. For obvious reasons. , that performance never took place, but these collaborations formed the basis of the album, providing the raw material that Wagner could further manipulate into new sounds by cutting, sticking and rearranging. Even outside of the live context, the songs retain their spectacle. None of Wagner’s songs sound like much Kiss me kate, but there is a theatrical flair to the album, as if Wagner had decided to address his audience directly.
Showtunes doesn’t compete with its predecessors, but all that the album really lacks is surprise. We’ve gotten used to Wagner in this setting, so he lacks the sense of discovery that drives his other albums, as does the high-flying excitement of an established artist rethinking his sound so deeply. This is only a minor complaint, especially since Showtunes has its own peculiar melancholy. The horn arrangements, courtesy of CJ Camerieri, have a sad tone, more like a New Orleans funeral than a Broadway orchestra, which color Wagner’s lyrics a dark shade of blue. He questions the nature of romantic love, how it uplifts and also isolates us, but he is also interested in musical love – the way songs are both ways of expressing affection and objects of affection themselves. On “A Chef’s Kiss”, he even dreams of his intention to get into show business, become an idol in the morning and “kiss a song”.
By emphasizing the pleasures of listening, Wagner invites you to savor the little exquisite moments on Showtunes, like the way James McNew’s right bass hits against the loungey piano on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone Journalist”, reminiscent of one of Lambchop’s most controversial albums. Or the way he rhymes “man in the street” with “pleated jumpsuit” to create a perfect verse on “Unknown Man”. Or the way he seems to do a duet with a disembodied opera singer on “The Last Benedict” closer. (In fact, it’s Broder who manipulates a recording.) “The highway and the trees sound like waves,” observes Wagner. “A voice beyond the leaves sings in a sort of lazy yodel, gently vaporizing aerial thoughts. At that point, Wagner might well be singing about himself and his own band, imagining himself as the voice beyond the leaves, both music maker and music lover, forever tying these two activities into his own. songs.
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