[CD Review] Lambchop, 'OH (ohio)' (Merge)

Kurt Wagner has always done things his own weird way with the Nashville ensemble Lambchop, from giving their 1994 debut two titles (I Hope You’re Sitting Down and Jack’s Tulips) to issuing two albums at once a decade later (Aw C’mon and No You C’mon) to covering Curtis Mayfield and East River Pipe in the same breath (1998’s What Another Man Spills). Wagner’s still arguably seeing double, recruiting reliable Nashville producers Mark Nevers (a longtime contributor) and Roger Moutenot for OH (ohio), Lambchop’s 10th album.

Likewise, Wagner maintains his thick, mournful whisper and deadpan sense of humor as he guides a handful of skilled musicians through these lush country/soul marvels. That humor jumps right out of “National Talk Like a Pirate Day,” from its title to the opening line (“This is my song/Don’t sing along”). It’s brisker than most Wagner compositions, hopefully making for a potential hit single. Another eye-catching song title is “Sharing a Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr.,” which also sets Wagner’s melancholy delivery to a gait rather than a crawl.

Whether he’s sweetly crooning a refrain such as “All for the love of Raymond” or nearly mumbling to himself on the unwieldy “Popeye,” it’s not always easy to pick up on what Wagner is singing about. But his artful vagueness has always been anchored by a quietly commanding presence, and he often has us hanging onto every unexpected word on the album. Even when we’re lost, Lambchop’s richly layered sound is a cozy place to inhabit until Wagner extends a hand.

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