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Lambchop 

Is a Woman (Merge)

Wednesday, Mar 13 2002
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In the '70s, "countrypolitan" artists such as Charlie Rich fused traditional country with strings and R&B in an attempt to woo upwardly mobile Southerners. Modern-day ensemble Lambchop shoots for a poorer, hipper audience, dusting off soul chestnuts, twanging up indie rock fare, and singing about bad LSD trips. On the Nashville band's sixth album, Is a Woman, Lambchop embraces countrypolitan's soft, sentimental style, offering a lovely sounding record that teeters on the edge of monochromatism.

Unlike countrypolitan's syrupy preoccupations, vocalist Kurt Wagner's songs long for an evaporating time and place more than any woman. "We all were much younger/ Were we really different/ In the really real world we knew," he sings on "The Old Matchbook Trick." When he does grow romantic, there's a sly bitterness to his tone, as when he quotes the reggae rhythm from Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" on the title song and sings, "Is a woman, write this down/ Put the paper, over there/ More than it is/ No more than it is."

While Is a Woman draws inspiration from the immaculate, string-sweetened enterprises of Rich producer Billy Sherrill, the album is also as quiet as 17 musicians can be. Tony Crow's evocative piano tinkles with lounge lizard authority alongside hand drums on "The New Cobweb Summer," while "Flick" builds on a run of piano notes, a barely audible triangle, and the sound of crickets.

At times, Is a Woman can be like a shy wallflower: pretty and dependable, but also frustratingly one-note. Often, Wagner's choked, throaty vocals and eccentric lyrics are the only thing preventing the project from sliding into a sleepy, undifferentiated morass. Maybe Wagner needs to break out of his own mold. Even cow-hipsters may get the blues, but their listeners are still entitled to more than one mood.

About The Author

Kimberly Chun

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