Lambchop 

Is a Woman

The title of "Nashville's Most Fucked-Up Country Band" is not one easily earned, and certainly not one coveted by any of the contemporary crossover chart-toppers who routinely hold court in the offices of Music Row. For better or for worse, that label's been bestowed upon Lambchop by its own American label, Merge. But after the release of Is a Woman, the folks at Merge may want to reexamine Lambchop's status as an alt.country band.

Woman is markedly different from its comparatively lush predecessors (most notably 2000's commercial/critical hit Nixon) in that it's defined not by the ensemble's heavily orchestrated horns, strings, and vocal arrangements, but by principal songwriter Kurt Wagner's amiable croak and pianist Tony Crow's Vince-Guaraldi-in-Vegas lounge trip. Is a Woman winds through its hour-long duration comfortably, in a manner aptly described by songwriter Kurt Wagner himself as "dark and breezy." Each song whispers along as though it's meant to be a closing ballad or a quiet soundtrack to a Sunday morning spent coming down.

With the rest of the band's nuanced plucking and bleating confined comfortably to the corners of the album, Wagner's ciphered lyrics are pushed to the forefront, an unmistakable invitation to the listener to soak in the intimacy of their comforting strangeness. You may find yourself wondering just what the hell this crazy sod is going on about half the time, but his ramblings are indeed engaging. When Wagner cuts through the chaff enough to mumble something coherent, as he does in "My Blue Wave," the wandering pays off: "William called and tried to tell me that his sister's boyfriend has just died/He's not sure what to do and I'm not sure what to tell him he should do/Sometimes, William, we're just screwed."

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