Review Summary: "This is my song, don't sing along"
Country and western, lounge music, and AM pop – all of these genres are patently unhip, as odorously unpleasant as plastic coverings on decades-old furniture or garish and flowery wallpaper. These were all styles of music I particularly loathed, coming from the rural South, until I heard Lambchop. Famously branded as “Nashville’s most ***ed-up country band”, Lambchop recontextualizes these normally-irksome styles and consistently delivers great music in spite of their influences’ un-coolness. Their tenth studio album OH (Ohio)
sees them in fine form, delivering a series of sumptuous songs combining old influences with new ideas.
“Ohio” (entirely unrelated to the U.S. state) serves as a definitive introduction to the album while subverting genre tropes, combining “Girl from Ipanema”-style guitars with depressive and forlorn lyrics. Despite being tonally restrained (a quality which this band has mastered to a tee; see their nineteen-person 2002 outing Is a Woman
, quite possibly the sparest album with a band anywhere near their membership), this song smoothly beckons the listener inwards. The rest of the album ebbs and flows between singer Kurt Wagner’s two modes of lyrical writing – earnest yet off-kilter torch singer (as displayed on the amusingly-titled yet luscious “I’m Thinking of a Number (Between 1 and 2)”), and abstract expressionism (such as on “A Hold of You”).
While it lies firmly in the latter of these two styles, “Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.” is a winning summation of everything that Lambchop does best. Eclectic, obtuse lyrics that have more artistically in common with a Brakhage film than an archetypal countrified love song, lay atop a vivid instrumental painting an autumnal picture of cool wind and falling leaves. “National Talk Like a Pirate Day” splits the difference between earnestness and cool detachment, providing another highlight. “I Believe in You” (a cover of an older country song) is a lovely closer, exemplifying the country spirit of the album without descending to the hokey sentimentalism that often makes this type of music repelling.
This is not to say that OH (Ohio)
is immaculate – while this album lacks any truly undercooked songs (speaking to the consistency which has personally associates this band’s name with an implicit seal of quality), some tracks are more memorable than others. “Please Rise” is a perfectly fine ballad which is a bit too repetitive to stand out in the tracklist. Similarly, “Close Up and Personal” is better as a prelude for the album’s closer than as a song considered separately from the album.
Overall, this album is of the type that grows on the listener, and those expecting instant gratification will be sorely disappointed. However, I expect I will return to this album multiple times in the very near future. Like other great Lambchop albums, OH (Ohio)
is a smartly-crafted, idiosyncratic take on country that is generous to patient listeners without giving up any of its artistic merit.