Lambchop : Is A Woman

Lambchop : Is A Woman


Seventh from Nashville collective. Features song about Embrace road crew. Yes it does...

So there’s a fortysomething guy sat on his porch with a laptop and some

cigarettes. His days are filled watching the birds and insects in his yard,

waiting for his wife to come home, and keying in a few lyrics. Pretty idyllic,

by the sounds. And it is, really, except sometimes he feels unaccountably sad,

and is so embarrassed by it he can only confess his emotions to his dog. Then

write a song about confessing his emotions to his dog.

Hardly the stuff of insurrectionist rock’n’roll, perhaps. Yet it’s hard to think

of another album like ‘Is A Woman’ – Lambchop‘s seventh – that makes contentment

sound so compelling and oddly radical. The dozen-odd players Kurt Wagner has

gathered around him in Lambchop are often seen, erroneously, as part of the

workmanlike scene. In fact, Wagner has guided his troupe to a much

less quantifiable sound, influenced as much by his art school background,

avant-garde ambience and Memphis soul as by the country music of his Nashville


And though it may be tough to categorise, it’s proved surprisingly successful,

with 2000’s excellent ‘Nixon’ even featuring a minor anthem in ‘Up With People’.

‘Is A Woman’, however, feels like a reaction to encroaching fame. For a start,

it’s almost unfeasibly hushed, 11 long songs built around cocktail-hour piano

flurries, non-committal strums, Wagner’s warm, quizzical voice and, seemingly,

not much else. But listen again, and the detailing starts to emerge: a backdrop

of warping guitar and studio effects, all wind and whirr, that sounds as if the

microphones have just picked up Kevin Shields messing about in the studio next


It’s a brave and curious record that, as on ‘Bugs’, occasionally resembles

Willie Nelson fronting Labradford. And that sensation is heightened by Wagner’s

astonishing performance. These are songs about the harmony of things – not least

his own relationship – which contradict the usual rule about trauma and

dysfunction inspiring the best art. Again, it’s all in the details, in the

skewed but meticulous way Wagner unravels his tales. A night on a tourbus with
Embrace‘s road crew is, in ‘The Old Matchbook Trick’, an excuse to examine the

unsteady connections between a musician’s life and reality; nebulous melancholy

shared with a dog can, in the outstanding ‘My Blue Wave’, become a moving

exploration of the often tangential relationship between mood swings and real


Two hokey minutes right at the end, when the title tracks slopes into a bad Bob

Marley pastiche, spoil the mood a touch. But ‘Is A Woman’ is that rarest of

things – a record that, for an hour, makes the wild and dramatic seem strangely

limited. Forget ‘Quiet Is The New Loud’: today, even quieter is the new quiet.

John Mulvey