OH (ohio)

What's your problem? What's your beef? I've got this gap between my teeth, Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner croons on "Close Up," a lilting love song from the Nashville band's current release. It's one of the cleverest lines on the disc. It's also one of the more decipherable lyrics. Wagner has a warm, soft-focus voice that alternates between low tenor and baritone pitches, and his phrasing is relaxed and rhythmically inventive. Yet words are projected like puffs of air and too often dissipate or get swallowed before phrase endings, making many of his songs difficult to interpret. Such ambiguity adds to Lambchop's mystique, however, and is no doubt a reason the band has attracted such a loyal cult following over the past fourteen years.

Wagner wrote the first ten tunes on OH (ohio), then closes it with a cover of Don Williams' 1980 country chart-topper "I Believe in You." Lambchop was identified with the alt-country genre early on, but the group's current sound has much more in common with the '60s Southern pop of such singers as Tommy Roe, Joe South, and B.J. Thomas than it does with country music, then or now. Once a chamber orchestra numbering up to twenty members, the band has been stripped down to seven instrumentalists whose soul-imbued musicianship, along with the contributions of alternating producers Roger Moutenot and Mark Nevers, give Wagner's hook-filled melodies a sheen reminiscent of Chips Moman and his American Rhythm Section's work in Memphis with Thomas, Bobby Womack, and the Box Tops, and later in Nashville with Waylon, Willie, and the boys. If only Wagner were to sharpen his enunciation, listeners would have more to sink their teeth into. (Merge)


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