Lambchop

Steven Butler

Damaged, the ninth album by Kurt Wagner and his 14-piece Nashville (but not country) orchestra, is a set of eight songs about damaged people, relationships and ideas bookended by two classic stream-of-consciousness pieces by Lambchop. The first, “Paperback Bible,” is simply about a man perusing a flea market, stating what he sees. It’s a gentle start, which is an odd but effective choice. The last track, “The Decline of Country and Western Civilization,” serves to counter the first’s mood with near rage by ranting about the current state of music (“You see your Pitchfork i-rock saviors / And I’m sorry I still prefer Jim Neighbors”). The more focused middle section is highlighted by the utterly beautiful “Prepared,” “Beers Before the Barbican” and “Fear,” all of which act as letters to or conversations with women in Wagner’s past that are obscured by their intensely personal nature. Who, other than the singer and intended recipient, would know what a line like “So keep your bread and mandolins” means? These types of narratives are what keep Lambchop interesting and its fans attached so closely. The signature sound is all there: the subdued yet terrifyingly powerful vocals, the strings, the slow tempos, the almost-ambient quality of the music. It is a very worthy follow-up to their two 2004 releases and, as time goes on, may eclipse it. Fans of latter-day Wilco, The Silver Jews and Nick Drake could easily use this album as a stepping-stone into the veritable American treasure that is Lampchop’s back catalogue.