The grand Nashville band Lambchop has delivered its majestically morbid (or morbidly majestic) brand of orchestral country music for nearly 20 years. Its founder, lead singer and songwriter, Kurt Wagner, is a dour dude who smokes like a fiend, grumbles and mumbles into the microphone like he's hooked up to a respirator, while oceans of arrangements and floral curlicues swirl around him. From the start, the guy's been a major bummer, lyrically. One of his first great songs, "Soaky in the Pooper," was an internal monologue from the perspective of a guy dying on a bathroom floor ("Better call the super/as I grip the towel rack for strength"), and from there, he and Lambchop -- which at its peak contained at least 13 players, but these days consists of a more manageable five -- have crafted 10 full-lengths that meld the countripolitan sounds of Charlie Rich and the expansive, highly orchestrated soul music of the 1970s (the band does a great cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love").
At their best, as on the masterful Nixon (purportedly a concept album about the disgraced president) and the dueling albums from 2004, Aw C'mon and No You C'mon, Wagner's gothic topics (equal parts funny, grumpy and mean-spirited) and rich instrumentation (lots of strings, horns and gentle guitar melodies) combine to create beauty. The band's fantastic new album, Ohio (OH), is an energetic return after a couple relative snoozers. It's rich, smart, witty and true. The show's a bit pricey -- $25 -- but totally worth it. Highly recommended.