|Lambchop — Nixon (2000, 2014)|
Lambchop — Nixon
♣ Lambchop combines country and R&B influences with moody, orchestral arrangements and quirky lyricism.
♣ At its heart, Nixon is an album fascinated by the world at its most fallible and ordinary. “And of that sweet, sweet soul,” Wagner sings on “Up With People”, “Let’s be certain the deliberate monologue/ As sure as if it will fall/ Across you, unto you/ We’ll most certainly leave the doing, the doing undone.” In other words: You’re probably gonna fuck it up.
♣ The album was a critical and commercial breakthrough for the band, especially in the United Kingdom where it polled highly in several year-end polls in music magazines, among them Uncut magazine. The song Up with People was subsequently remixed by Zero 7.
♣ The sleeve is a painting by Wayne White, a childhood friend of Kurt Wagner who also provided cover art for Thriller, Aw Cmon and No You Cmon by the band.
Formed: 1993 in Nashville, TN
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Album release: February 8, 2000/28 January, 2014
Record Label: Merge
Duration: 49:50 + 24:11 => 74:01
01 The Old Gold Shoe 6:22
02 Grumpus 4:19
03 You Masculine You 5:59
04 Up with People 5:59
05 Nashville Parent 5:39
06 What Else Could It Be? 3:39
07 The Distance from Her to There 4:21
08 The Book I Haven't Read 5:45
09 The Petrified Florist 4:53
10 The Butcher Boy 2:54
BONUS MATERIAL, with French radio session White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power.:
11 What Else Could It Be? (How I Met Cat Power) 4:51
12 Up with People (How I Met Cat Power) 4:58
13 The Distance from Her to There (How I Met Cat Power) 4:29
14 The Book I Haven't Read (How I Met Cat Power) 5:18
15 The Saturday Option (How I Met Cat Power) 4:35
From Kurt: “This was a rare solo performance recorded at Radio France of (with the exception of one) as-yet unrecorded Lambchop songs with cassette tape loop accompaniment for a show they had called the White Sessions. It's called "How I Met Cat Power," which actually is true; we were doing back-to-back promo sessions that day...”
• Kurt Wagner: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9
• Curtis Mayfield / Kurt Wagner: 8
• Traditional/Public Domain: 10
Album Moods: Ambitious Lazy Quirky Acerbic Bittersweet Confident Earnest Intimate Literate Poignant Reflective Sentimental Theatrical Wry Cynical/Sarcastic Sophisticated
Themes: Affirmation Loss/Grief Affection/Fondness
• Allen Lowrey
• Ben Martin
• Deanna Varagona
• Dennis Cronin
• John Delworth
• Jonathan Marx
• Kurt Wagner
• Marc William Trovillion
• Mark Nevers
• Paul Burch
• Paul Niehaus
• Scott C. Chase
• William Tyler
• Brady Barnett Editing
• Lloyd Barry Arranger, String Arrangements
• Paula James Booker Guitar (Electric)
• Ken Coomer Percussion
• Dennis Cronin Assistant Engineer, Cornet, Engineer, Trumpet, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
• Tony Crow Piano
• John Delworth Hammond Synth, Juno, Organ (Hammond), Piano
• Tommy Dorsey Mastering
• Allen Lowrey Drums
• Jonathan Marx Trumpet, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
• Curtis Mayfield Composer
• Alex McManus Guitar (Electric)
• Brian Miles Assistant Engineer, Engineer
• The Nashville String Machine Strings
• Mark Nevers Engineer, Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Mixing, Producer
• Paul Niehaus Fender Telecaster, Pedal Steel, Vocals
• Public Domain Composer
• David Streit Assistant Engineer
• Matt Swanson Guitar (Bass)
• Deanna Varagona Sax (Baritone), Vocals, Vocals (Background)
• Kurt Wagner Composer, Guitar, Juno, Mixing, Producer, Vocals
• Wayne White Cover Art, Cover Painting
Review by Mark Deming; Score: ****
♣ Supposedly a concept album about the disgraced 37th president of the United States (though the lyrics make no recognizable statements about Richard Nixon’s infamous life and times), Lambchop‘s fifth full-length was a powerful consolidation of the strengths they’d gained since their uncertain debut in 1994.
♣ Kurt Wagner’s sometimes singing/sometimes talking vocal style and lyrics that were oblique to the point of seeming surreal remained a matter of taste, but his melodies hit a new peak in their beauty and evocative spirit as he merged countrypolitan country, smooth R&B, and chamber pop in ambitious and intriguing ways. And as Lambchop swelled to 13 musicians (not counting guest musicians, a choir, and the string section), the arrangements became increasingly sophisticated as Wagner and his collaborators used their rich palette of sounds to inspire a wealth of moods — from the easygoing groove of “Grumpus” to the luxurious sadness of “Nashville Parent” — and helped to clarify and strengthen that which seemed uncertain in Wagner’s lyrics. And given the sheer ambition of this album, Nixon is a milestone in independent record making, music constructed on a grand scale that’s richly satisfying without seeming overdone or tricked up simply for its own sake. And regardless of how one feels about Wagner’s abilities as a singer, when he lets his heart do the talking on numbers like “The Distance from Her to There” and “The Book I Haven’t Read,” his sincerity is undeniable and affecting. Calling Nixon Lambchop’s masterpiece is to ignore the fine work they’d done before and the similarly ambitious work that came afterward, but it is the point where they showed they were in full command of the tools and talents at their disposal, and its glorious eccentricities are as pleasurable as anything in their catalog.
♣ In 2014, Merge Records released a remastered edition of Nixon with deluxe packaging and a bonus disc, White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power, featuring five songs from a French radio broadcast. The radio session is essentially a Kurt Wagner solo set, playing four songs that would later appear on Nixon accompanied only by his guitar and some additional music beds playing on a cassette machine. While these performances strip the songs of the studio magic that helped make Nixon memorable, they also reveal how strong the tunes really are, still compelling in their most basic form, and Wagner is an engaging solo performer, though his falsetto is somewhat erratic in this context. If the bonus material is less than absolutely essential, it’s certainly worth a listen for fans, and will add to the experience for those checking out Nixon for the first time.
Artist Biography by Jason Ankeny
♣ Touted as "Nashville's most fucked-up country band" by their label Merge Records, Lambchop was arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s. Their unclassifiable hybrid of country, soul, jazz, and avant-garde noise seemed at one time or another to drink from every conceivable tributary of contemporary music, its Baroque beauty all held together by the surreal lyrical wit and droll vocal presence of frontman Kurt Wagner. Although Lambchop's ever-rotating roster would later expand to over a dozen members, the group formed in 1986 as a simple three-piece teaming Wagner, guitarist Jim Watkins, and bassist Marc Trovillion, former high school classmates already ten years removed from the educational system. ♣ Originally dubbed Posterchild, the trio made its earliest recordings in Trovillion's bedroom, self-releasing a series of cassettes with titles like I'm Fucking Your Daughter. In time, the lineup began to grow and the band regularly performed live in and around the Nashville area, often at the area record shop, Lucy's (not coincidentally owned by Wagner's wife, Mary).
♣ In 1992, Posterchild — now consisting of Wagner, Trovillion, guitarist Bill Killbrew, clarinetist Jonathan Marx, multi-instrumentalist Scott C. Chase, drummer Steve Goodhue, and percussionist Allen Lowery — released An Open Fresca + A Moist Towlette, a split single with friends Crop Circle Hoax. The 7" brought the group to the attention of entertainment lawyer George Regis, who issued cease-and-desist orders on behalf of his clients, the noise pop band Poster Children. After rejecting the names REN, Pinnacles of Cream, and Turd Goes Back, the band settled on Lambchop, added vocalist/saxophonist Deanna Varagona, steel guitarist Paul Niehaus, and organist John Delworth, and signed to Merge to release the 1993 single "Nine." Their debut LP, I Hope You're Sitting Down (aka Jack's Tulips), followed a year later. In many ways, this album would be the most conventional Lambchop record. Its Nashville origins and torch-and-twang ambience would saddle the band with the increasingly erroneous alt-country tag, although Wagner's Lou Reed-like vocals and bizarre narrative conceits — in particular the fan-favorite "Soaky in the Pooper," a vivid recounting of a bad LSD trip — immediately signaled their obvious distance from the likes of Uncle Tupelo or the Jayhawks.
♣ The lovely How I Quit Smoking appeared in 1996 (although on the subsequent "Cigaretiquette" single, Wagner would proudly announce, "I'm smoking again"). Recorded live the previous Independence Day, the Hank EP followed later in 1996. Marking the debut of drummer Paul Burch, the disc represented the apotheosis of Lambchop's Billy Sherrill-inspired phase, its lush production evoking the Nashville sound so popular three decades earlier, but now completely passé among Music City's chart superstars. 1997's Thriller proved a major turning point; highlighted by the Muscle Shoals soul of "Your Fucking Sunny Day" and including no fewer than three songs penned by East River Pipe's F.M. Cornog, this sprawling, difficult album introduced the uncompromising eclecticism that would dominate Lambchop's work from here on out. ♣ The follow-up, 1998's What Another Man Spills, upped the ante further; for remarkably soulful covers of Curtis Mayfield's "Love Song (Give Me Your Love)" and Frederick Knight's "I've Been Lonely for So Long," Wagner's baritone drawl even gave way to a Prince-like falsetto. That same year, the group also backed Vic Chesnutt on his album The Salesman and Bernadette.
♣ Lambchop's fifth full-length, Nixon, appeared in the spring of 2000. Supposedly a concept album exploring the presidency of the infamous Tricky Dick, Wagner even included a bibliography in the liner notes — a direct connection to the Watergate scandal remains unidentified. Though still criminally unknown at home, Lambchop enjoyed a much more substantial following overseas, and on May 13, 2000, they appeared at the London Royal Festival Hall; the gig was recorded and made available at U.K. appearances that fall as the Queens Royal Trimma limited-edition EP. (A 2001 European tour yielded the Treasure Chest of the Enemy EP.) The 2001 collection Tools in the Dryer assembled many of Lambchop's scattered singles, compilation tracks, and remixes.
♣ After recording the purposefully spare Is a Woman in 2002, Wagner and company moved on to their most ambitious project yet — two simultaneously released albums, Aw C'Mon and No, You C'Mon, in which Lambchop was returned to full power and joined by a lush string section. The next year the musically experimental EP CoLAB came out, followed in the spring of 2006 by The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years, an eclectic collection of tracks that had never appeared before on Lambchop records, including one new song, "Gettysburg Address," and a record of all new material called Damaged later that summer. 2008 saw the release of the typically graceful and elegant OH (Ohio), followed in early 2012 by the group’s 11th full-length outing, the austere Mr. M., which offered up 11 lush, string-laden meditations on love and loss, all of which were dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt.
By Mike Powell; January 29, 2014; Score: 8.3
1994 I Hope You're Sitting Down/Jack's Tulips
1996 How I Quit Smoking
1998 What Another Man Spills
2002 Is a Woman
2004 Aw Cmon
2004 No You Cmon
2008 OH (Ohio)
2012 Mr. M
2000 The Queens Royal Trimma (Live Royal Festival Hall, London — Tour Only)
2001 Treasure Chest of the Enemy (Tour Only)
2005 CoLab (with Hands Off Cuba)
2012 Mr. N
2009 Live at XX Merge
2007 No Such Silence
|Lambchop — Nixon (2000, 2014)|