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Lambchop — The Decline of Country & Western Civilization (1993~99), Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years (April 11, 2006)

Lambchop — The Decline of Country & Western Civilization (1993~99), Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years (April 11, 2006) Lambchop — The Decline of Country & Western Civilization (1993~99), Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years 
••→   Lambchop combines country and R&B influences with moody, orchestral arrangements and quirky lyricism.
••→   “Of course, if the songs themselves weren’t constructed and arranged so beautifully by the extremely talented and malleable ensemble of up to 16 musicians, Wagner’s voice might never find any audience. And it is the versatility of the ensemble that is showcased with this collection and its predecessor, Tools in the Dryer. Unlike that album, The Decline reviews a briefer span of time, but the range of experimentation is no less broad. From the aforementioned schmaltz pop to the faux drum and bass of “Two Kittens Don’t Make A Puppy,” I was constantly reminded of the apparent ease with which Lambchop assumes so many musical identities. The early alternate versions of a few of the tracks from Nixon and Thriller beautifully highlight how the songs can work in a barer setting while simultaneously illuminating how much the careful arrangements ultimately enhance them. For someone new to Lambchop, I might suggest starting with one of their more polished studio efforts, but for those who have already fallen under Wagner & Co.’s spell, this is some welcome insight into their achievements and processes.” — DAVE GURNEY
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Genre: Country Rock, Indie, Alt Country
Released: April 11, 2006
Recorded: January~July 2001, Nashville
Reissue release date: March 3, 2017
Record Label: Merge Records/Rogue Records
Duration:     72:30
01. My Cliché (Kurt Wagner)     4:51
02. “Loretta Lung (Kurt Wagner)     3:19
03. Two Kittens Don’t Make a Puppy (Excerpt) (Kurt Wagner)     2:04
04. It’s Impossible (Kurt Wagner)     5:37
05. Ovary Eyes (Kurt Wagner)     3:10
06. I Can Hardly Spell My Name (Kurt Wagner)     3:40
07. The Scary Caroler (Kurt Wagner)     3:06
08. Your Life as a Sequel (Kurt Wagner)     4:21
09. Smuckers (Kurt Wagner)     2:02
10. Alumni Lawn (Kurt Wagner)     2:48
11. Burly and Johnson (Kurt Wagner)     3:28
12. Mr. Crabby (Kurt Wagner)     3:42
13. Playboy, The Shit (Kurt Wagner)     5:33
14. Gloria Leonard (Kurt Wagner)     4:44
15. The Old Fat Robin (Alternate Version) (Kurt Wagner)     5:18
16. The Distance from Her to There (Kurt Wagner)     4:05
17. The Book I Haven’t Read (Curtis Mayfield / Kurt Wagner)     4:43
18. Gettysburg Address (Kurt Wagner)     5:59
Written by:
♦   Kurt Wagner     1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18
♦   Curtis Mayfield / Kurt Wagner     17
••→   Tracks 1.1, 1.2 : single, Sunday Driver Records, 1994
••→   Track 1.3 : B~side of Soaky In The Pooper, Merge Records, 1994
••→   Track 1.4: Split single with The Nonpareils and Bartlebees, Contrast International, Belgium, 1995
••→   Track 1.5 : from Notes From The Underground Vol. 2 compilation, Priority Records, 1995
••→   Tracks 1.6, 1.7 : Split single with CYOD, Bloodsucker Records, 1995
••→   Tracks 1.8, 1.9 : Single, Mute Records, 1995
••→   Tracks 1.10, 1.11 : B~side of The Man Who Loved Beer, City Slang, Germany, 1996
••→   Track 1.12 : Single, Merge Records, 1997
••→   Track 1.13 : Single, Merge Records, 1997
••→   Track 1.14 : alternate version from “Never Kept A Diary” compilation, Motorcoat Records, 1997
••→   Track 1.15 : alternate version, unreleased, recorded, 1997
••→   Tracks 1.16, 1.17 : alternate versions, single, Elefant Records, Spain, 1999
••→   Track 1.18 : Unreleased, delivered Nov. 19, 1863
••→   others: Smog, Tindersticks, Silver Jews, Magnetic Fields
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming;  Score: ***½
ψ   Lambchop is a group that takes an obvious pride in working on a grand scale — this is a band that’s swelled to as many as 16 members at times and in 2004 released two full~length albums on the same day — so it should come as no surprise that they’ve come up with more worthwhile material than they’ve found room for on their LPs. The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years compiles 18 performances that otherwise haven’t appeared on a Lambchop album: compilation appearances, B~sides, contributions to split singles, unreleased alternate takes, and one brand new number, “Gettysburg Address.” No one familiar with Lambchop should be surprised that this compilation reflects the stylistic shape~sifting that’s part of the group’s raison d’etre; while the witty but cryptic lyrics and evocatively murmured vocals of leader Kurt Wagner are the glue that holds this set together, musically this disc runs the gamut from thundering guitar~powered rock enriched with horns and steel guitar (“The Scary Caroler”), the jazzy atonalities of “Burly and Johnson,” and the muted trumpets and electronic treatments of “Two Kittens Don’t Make a Puppy” to the shambolic but easygoing drift of “Ovary Eyes” and the white~bread soul strut of “Alumni Lawn.” About the only thing that unites this stuff is that Lambchop is going to do what they want to do, and it’s always going to be at least interesting, while the best music is wildly evocative and truly moving stuff. However, given the scattershot nature in which this was recorded, The Decline of Country & Western Civilization isn’t especially cohesive, and a few tunes were clearly saved for B~sides because they weren’t quite A~list material. Still, anyone who already loves Lambchop will find several reminders of why on this collection, and it’ll tide over fans until Wagner and Company release their next major statement. Allmusic.com
Product Description:
ψ   THE DECLINE OF THE COUNTRY AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION is a collection of rare material never previously available on any album, all material recorded between 1992~1999. It’s sometimes hard to work out why it is that LAMBCHOP, an undeniably singular band, were ever referred to as country. Such is the breadth and depth of the songs on offer here ~ most of which have, until now, been owned by merely a select few (if any) ~ that pinning a label on the band seems somewhat futile to say the least.
ψ   What inspired Kurt Wagner to make soul records on his back porch in Nashville? We may never know, but the songs the frontman has produced with his band Lambchop remain like none other, mixing up the usual buffet of slide guitars and mournful laments with slick horns, roof~raising falsettos and pure R&B gloss. This compilation reels in a collection of 18 b~sides and rarities from the group’s back catalog, tracing an evolution that has seen the ever evolving line~up try its hand at everything from noisy indie rock to knees~on~the~floor gospel. Yes, sometimes the clever titles are better than the actual songs (really, it’s hard to top “The Scary Caroler” and “Two Kittens Don’t Make A Puppy”). But for those already familiar with Lambchop’s broken soul music this set serves as both a useful history lesson and a treasure trove in which to discover cast~off gems such as “Gettysburg Address,” “Loretta Lung” and the quietly vulgar “Smuckers.” But where the hell is “Soakey in the Pooper”?  — Aidin Vaziri
by Stephen M. Deusner, APRIL 13 2006 / Score: 7.2 / Score: 7.0
ψ   Two volumes of Lambchop singles and rarities — one released on Germany’s City Slang, the other on Merge.
ψ   Lambchop seem like one the most domesticated bands around. Maybe it’s because their sound, despite the fullness that comes from so many members, retains its subtlety and subdued complexity with the loose feel of a pick~up band among friends. Or maybe it’s because in songs like “Nashville Parent” and “The New Cobweb Summer”, singer/lyricist Kurt Wagner always seems to be wandering his house, thinking deep thoughts about dogs and sponges, and doling wryly homespun wisdom like some brilliantly addled Lewis Grizzard. He finds inspiration in such housebound activities as walking the dog, verbally sparring with the missus, and drinking in the backyard. In a sense, this is the flipside of the typical country concerns of cheatin’ spouses and barstool life, playing up not the heartache that haunts most songs, but the mundanity of the day~to~day grind that everyone faces — as well as the small particulars that make it worthwhile.
ψ   On the two volumes of The Decline of Country and Western Civilization — one from German label City Slang and the other from the band’s American label Merge — Lambchop gather a gaggle of rarities and oddities, tracks from label samplers and early attempts at songs that would later find homes on What Another Man Spills, Nixon, or Is a Woman. Technically, most are the A~ and B~sides from six years of seven~inch singles, but they have the feel of songs stacked for years in the garage behind two decades of National Geographics or lost behind the bedroom bureau, gathering dust with someone’s wallet~size school portrait. There is some overlap between the two tracklists (as well as with the 2001 comp Tools in the Dryer, which spans 1987~2000); nine songs appear on both discs, counting two different versions of “Your Life as a Sequel” and “Alumni Lawn” and two different excerpts from the out~there collaboration “Two Kittens Don’t Make a Puppy”. For the most part, however, despite these redundancies, the two volumes don’t cancel each other out, but rather complement each other nicely.
ψ   Not that there’s an official retrospective to compare them to, but these compilations form an engaging alternative Lambchop history, telling more about the band’s experimentation and evolution, its range and reach, than any “best of” ever could. As such, both Declines sound better even as they play up the band’s lucid contradictions. These songs have the feel of a specific Nashville setting, though they sound like nothing else that comes out of that city. Lambchop’s music is on country’s map, but they take a winding route via 1970s funk and soul, folk, Americana, and late~80s college rock.  These compilations run the gamut from rambunctious, lowish~fi numbers like “Nine”, with its vocalized rhythm guitar lines, and “Loretta Lung”, to more polished, reedy — more Lambchoppy — tracks like “Playboy, the Shit” and “The Gettysburg Address”, which...how the hell has this stayed unreleased for so long? The opposable sore thumbs on both volumes are two excerpts from a longer piece called “Two Kittens Don’t Make a Puppy”, which is a collaboration of sorts with Mac McCaughn of Superchunk/Merge Records and Unrest’s Mark Robinson. A jumble of mechanized drumbeats, squirrelly trumpet, and nonsense vocals, each section manages to be just grating enough to be funny, then a little bit more grating.
ψ   The City Slang version of Decline gets the extra one~fifth point because the Merge version doesn’t have “Soaky in the Pooper”, which is more than just a great title even though it doesn’t have to be. Originally appearing on 1994’s I Hope You’re Sitting Down, it’s a hazy story~song about a bad trip, progressing from stupor to paranoia to death. The song reveals Wagner at his clever best, mixing offbeat imagery with oddball wordplay. No songwriter can milk as much humor from a simple aabb rhyme scheme. “Suckers and Smuckers, wake up you little fuckers,” he sings on “Smuckers”, and it’s easy to imagine a grouchy parent muttering to himself as he stumbles through a kid’s messy room. He’s a poet of the grump: on “Moody Fucker” he savors the saucy vulgarity of the title, rolling out that “fuck” syllable defiantly, as if he’s just been told to watch his mouth in front of the kids. Such moments accumulate into a genial familiarity: Wagner could be your drinking buddy, or your dad, or yourself in your forties. That homey sensibility plays up the collections’ junk~drawer aesthetic, excusing their clutter as a sort of shaggy~dog charm and making their inconsistency not only tolerable, but possibly the entire point of this project. ψ   http://pitchfork.com/
BY JASON MACNEIL, 21 July 2006 / Score: 7
ψ   http://www.popmatters.com/review/lambchop-the-decline-of-country-western-civilization-part-ii-the-woodwind-y/
Label: https://www.mergerecords.com/
Website: http://www.lambchop.net/
MySpace: https://myspace.com/lambchopisaband
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lambchopisaband
Studio albums:
♣   1994 I Hope You’re Sitting Down/Jack’s Tulips
♣   1996 How I Quit Smoking
♣   1997 Thriller
♣   1998 What Another Man Spills
♣   2000 Nixon
♣   2002 Is a Woman
♣   2004 Aw Cmon
♣   2004 No You Cmon
♣   2006 Damaged
♣   2008 OH (Ohio)
♣   2012 Mr. M
♣   2016 FLOTUS (For Love Often Turns Us Still)

Lambchop — The Decline of Country & Western Civilization (1993~99), Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years (April 11, 2006)