It’s been nearly two decades since Lambchop released its first album, at the time pronouncing itself “Nashville’s most fucked-up country band.” Provocative it may have been, but the description made sense: at the heart of all that ruckus was a band at once defying and embracing the musical legacy of its hometown. Since then, Lambchop has evolved into an accomplished ensemble, adding palpable depth and substance to singer-songwriter-guitarist Kurt Wagner’s songs – and the band sounds as commanding as ever on its 11th album, Mr. M, a collection of meditations on love and loss and the detritus of everyday existence.
Recorded at Mark Nevers’s Nashville Beech House studio cum bungalow and dedicated to Vic Chesnutt,Mr. M includes the usual core of musicians- Scott Martin (drums), Matt Swanson (bass), Ryan Norris (guitar, organ), Tony Crow (piano), William Tyler (guitar) and guests include original co-founder Jonathan Marx, delightful Cortney Tidwell (who shared vocals on 2010’s KORT project) and fiddler Billy Contreras (who has worked with all from Charlie Louvin to Laura Cantrell) – and with spectacular string arrangements shared between Peter Stopschinski and Mason Neely, it stretches out sonically as promised. (Incidentally the paintings, thickly layered black and white portraits forming a series called Beautillion Millitaire 2000, feature on the album sleeve and throughout the full artwork).
The core of the music remains the cyclical picking of Wagner’s guitar and the soft, warm croaking of his voice. The songs are spacious, even dreamy, as on the Countrypolitan instrumental “Gar,” while the lyrics and titles are rich with allusions, some of them obvious, others seemingly unknowable.