The late great comedian Bill Hicks once mused on what an unfair universe we lived in when John Lennon can be shot while Barry Manilow continues to sell records. To paraphrase the great man, it’s also a strange world where Gareth Gates can be allowed to release albums yet Kurt Wagner remains unknown.
Wagner is the leader of Nashville collective Lambchop who have quietly been releasing one magical album after another for ten years now. Despite their most recent releases, Nixon and Is A Woman, being masterpieces you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s heard of them.
Their latest release is their most ambitious yet. Last year, Wagner decided to write a song a day for a few months to see what he could come up with. During this experiment he was also asked to put together a soundtrack for a 1927 silent movie called Sunrise.
The results are showcased on the wonderfully titled Aw C’Mon and No You C’Mon, which is being trailed as a ‘simultaneous album release’. The band are at pains to point out that both albums are separate entities in their own right, although they can only be bought together. Both share a similar sound yet are different enough to feel vaguely contrasting. Most importantly for Lambchop fans though is the fact that the music they contain is the usual glorious stuff.
Each Lambchop album seems to be based around a particular instrument. On Is A Woman it was Tony Crowe’s fragile piano, and on Aw C’Mon it’s the lush string arrangements that take centre stage. No You C’Mon sees guitarist William Tyler dominate proceedings which gives the albums their contrasting edge.
Of course, Wagner himself is on fine form throughout. He may not have the strongest voice in the world, yet his world weary, cracked vocals perfectly suits the intimate arrangements here. As for the lyrics, they’re some of the best he’s ever written, as you’d expect from a man who can name a song Women Help To Create The Type Of Men They Despise.
Of the two albums. Aw C’Mon is probably more lush than its sister album – some of the string arrangements are just gorgeous (see Nothing But A Blur From A Bullet Train) and fans whose favourite album is Nixon will find much to appreciate here.
The general atmosphere on the first album is more relaxed but with a slightly sinister tone lurking underneath – business as usual for Lambchop in other words. The instrumentals (which presumably is the material that Wagner wrote for Sunrise) slot nicely in, and the album also includes one of the finest songs Wagner’s written in Each Time I Bring It Up It Seems To Bring You Down.
No You C’Mon is slightly more rough-edged, with Tyler on fine form. The Gusher mixes thrash guitar with jazzy piano, which sounds like it should be horrendous but actually works beautifully. Nothing Adventurous Please just flat out rocks (an unusual development for Lambchop), while Jan 24 is the pick of the handful of instrumentals on display.
While these two records won’t be the ones to propel Lambchop out of the cultdom they’ve become used to (only the melancholic Something’s Going On makes any concessions to catchiness) you get the impression that won’t particularly bother Kurt Wagner and company. Aw, c’mon – buy this and enjoy a master craftsman at the top of his game.