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Lambchop - Showtunes Music Album Reviews

Lambchop - Showtunes Music Album Reviews
Following a string of albums deconstructing Lambchop’s sound, Kurt Wagner continues to reinvent his band, this time using MIDI-assisted piano melodies to write love songs to music itself.

On Showtunes, Lambchop’s 15th studio album, Kurt Wagner whiles away an afternoon contemplating an old standard. “I’m listening to that ‘Old Devil Moon’ and the day outside is slowly flying by me,” he sings on “Blue Leo,” his voice subtly distorted over a shape-shifting beat. On another verse of the same song, he’s at the supermarket picking out vegetables when he hears “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” right as the sprayers turn on. “The band is getting wet,” he deadpans. These are small moments that gesture to larger feelings and ideas—a Wagner specialty—and in this case the overarching concept is how our favorite songs can hold lengthy, funny conversations with our innermost thoughts.

As Lambchop’s frontman and, lately, sole guiding force, Wagner has always been a keen listener, attuned to the world of sounds and songs around him. On early albums, “Nashville’s most fucked-up country band” (as their label described them) did frequent covers of songs by their friends (East River Pipe) as well as deep cuts by their heroes (Curtis Mayfield). With the notable exception of last year’s covers album TRIP, Lambchop rarely play other people’s music anymore. Today Wagner is more likely to sing about a song than he is to actually sing that song, but on Showtunes, he plants those references in his lyrics so strategically that music seems like an unstoppable force, as invasive as kudzu but certainly not malignant. Listening is the album’s central theme—the pleasure of processing sound, the reassurance of a familiar song, the way a melody or an instrument can remind you that you’re alive and breathing the earth’s air, even if you’re just bumming around the house or buying okra. Wagner just assumes that any fan of Lambchop naturally feels a similar joy or consolation. “Are you listening?” goes the sample that opens the dissembling “Drop C,” to which the sampled crowd responds, “Yeah!”

Showtunes feels like the third act in a trilogy of albums that have deconstructed the Lambchop sound, reassembled it slightly akimbo, and changed the way we hear this band. Working either alone in his home or with a very small group of collaborators who aren’t necessarily band members, Wagner has tinkered with technology in order to bend his songs into new shapes without sacrificing warmth, wit, or humanity. It’s been a wildly productive phase, with FLOTUS and This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) sitting among the best albums to carry Lambchop’s name on the spine. Wagner, to his credit, doesn’t seem to view these recent albums as a break from the group’s early days as a sprawling orchestra, but rather an extension of the anything-goes philosophy that has defined the band for nearly 30 years.

To create these new tunes, Wagner recorded guitar tracks first, then converted them into piano tones via MIDI, re-editing them after the fact. Those new sounds changed the nature of the music, which he described to Fader recently as “show tunes for people who don’t like show tunes,” echoing a sentiment many still apply to country music. He had intended to debut the album onstage, 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 happened, but those collaborations formed the basis for the album, providing raw material that Wagner could further manipulate into new sounds by cutting, pasting, and rearranging. Even outside the live context, the songs retain their showtunefulness on record. None of Wagner’s songs sound much like Kiss Me Kate, but there is a theatrical flair to the album, as though Wagner has decided to address his audience directly.

Showtunes doesn’t rival its predecessors, but all the album really lacks is surprise. We’ve gotten used to Wagner in this setting, so the sense of discovery that animates his other albums is missing, as is the high-wire excitement of an established artist so thoroughly rethinking his sound. That’s only a minor complaint, especially considering that Showtunes has its own peculiar melancholy. The horn arrangements, courtesy of C.J. Camerieri, have a mournful tone, more like a New Orleans funeral than a Broadway pit orchestra, which color Wagner’s lyrics a dark shade of blue. He ponders the nature of romantic love, how it elevates and also isolates us, but he’s also interested in musical love—the way that songs are both means of expressing affection, and objects of affection themselves. On “A Chef’s Kiss” he even daydreams up plans to go into show business, become a matinee idol, and “blow a kiss to a song.”

By emphasizing the pleasures of listening, Wagner invites you to savor the small, exquisite moments on Showtunes, like the way James McNew’s upright bass thumps against the loungey piano on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone Journalist,” recalling one of Lambchop’s most divisive albums. Or the way he rhymes “man on the streets” with “jumpsuit with pleats” to create a perfect couplet on “Unknown Man.” Or the way he seems to duet with a disembodied opera singer on closer “The Last Benedict.” (Actually, it’s Broder manipulating a recording.) “The interstate and trees sound just like waves,” Wagner observes. “A voice beyond the leaves sings in a lazy kind of yodel, softly spraying airy thoughts.” In that moment, 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 twining those two pursuits together in his own songs.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Lambchop - Showtunes Music Album Reviews Lambchop - Showtunes Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, June 01, 2021 Rating: 5

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