Classic Americana Albums: Lambchop “Is A Woman”

Merge Records, 2002

Lambchop is listed as a Nashville band, or at least that’s where the band’s mastermind Kurt Wagner started out as a guy laying down parquet or laminate floors around town, trying to earn a daily living. So you’d instinctively expect Wagner and his band to soak in country music, right?

Maybe that’s what many around Nashville thought, because from the band’s beginnings in the nineties to this day, Lambchop is probably more popular anywhere on this planet than with country purists in Nashville. Not that Wagner and co. haven’t rubbed quite a number of their staunch fans up the wrong way with the music they have made through the years. 

You see, Lambchop at any point of their existence has been combining everything from country itself to soul, lounge, rock electronics, jazz… you name it. Very often, within one song at the same time. Oh, include there, Wagner’s lyrics that one critic described as having a ‘coyness that could lead to aggravating pretensions,’ while others think that Wagner deserves a place at poetry festivals (one of which he did participate in, mind you). Taking all of that in, many would say, OK, that is exactly what we see as Americana.

And yes, that is exactly it, the reasons Lambchop are essentially an Americana band, even if they are completely submerged in electronics at times. And yes, this is the reason ‘Is A Woman’ (or should the title really read, Lambchop…is a woman?) is one of the band’s and Americana’s masterpieces.

Quite aware of the comments about his music, and in his almost inimitable sense of sardonic humor, Wagner announced the album like this: ”Here’s my new album. I hope you’ll like it. It’s a bunch of samey downtempo stuff that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.” 

That was at the turn of the century (2002) when Lambchop was just starting to reach its full shape and musical form. Where their previous album (‘Nixon’ – 2000) showed exactly the extend of Wagner’s bag of musical/lyrical tricks (don’t go any further than ‘Up With People’), ‘Is A Woman’ is a kind of (blue) Americana bar showcase, with both Wagner and the band in a sort of a languorous mood, as if they are playing for themselves and a few forgotten Nashville drunkards on the edge of town.

And yet again Wagner pulls together almost anything well. From pedal steel, subdued ‘guitar with modified tools’ and the baritone sax of (‘The New Cobweb Summer’) to torch song that includes soulful Doo-wop vocals (‘The Old Matchbook Trick’) to reggae, pure and (not) so simple (the title track). But then, what do you expect from a guy who scours the record shops for material old and new wherever he goes?

Actually, one of the reasons the album was a big thing in Europe when it was released was because it included an extra disc with a few additional numbers, one of them being Lambchop’s version of goth rock classic ‘This Corrosion’ (Sisters of Mercy). The second disc was later expanded to 16 tracks when the album was re-released in 2010. The version to look for, with Lambchop’s own classic ‘The Gusher’ turned into a Bossa Nova, among other delights.

Even if you are a devout musical archivist, you have to have talent, imagination, and capability to incorporate disparate elements into your own music. And that is exactly what Wagner and Lambchop do on this album. 

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Keith Hargreaves

Their best IMHO