On the latest version of Lamb chopentitled The Bible, Kurt Wagner is as far removed from his late-night outcast days in Nashville as he’s ever been, both physically and sonically. Recorded in Minneapolis in 2021, the songs are ominous iterations of pandemic life.
Working primarily with two lead artists/producers, Andrew Broder (Piano, Arrangements, Programming, Electric Guitar) and Ryan Olsen (Arrangements, Editing, Programming, Processing, Beats), Wagner crafted these dark songs as a meditation on existence. There were additional backing vocals, numerous musicians, and inspirations, but Wagner credits Broder and Olsen as major contributors to the album’s tones and themes.
The opening track “His Song Is Sung” is a good example of the overall idea of the record with gently swelling horns, strings and piano setting the stage before shifting to a darker tonality before a digitally rhythmic finale. . Nothing is off limits musically for Lambchop and while not everything works, Wagner and company are ready for anything, including robotic vocal effects around funky dance-laden beats during “Little Black Boxes.” Apart from these vocoders, Wagner sings like he hasn’t warmed up his vocal cords yet. Nick Cave, the music sometimes replacing his words. These remain distant and poetic painted with half-sentences and sketches.
The most of The Bible uses Broder’s piano as a base, sinking into lamentations like on the more reserved and extended ‘Daisy’ or the tearful steel guitar-augmented ‘Dylan at the Mousetrap’ or the twittering ‘Every Child Begins the World Again’. When the music stays in one area too long, the releases drag, like on the string-based finale “That’s Music” or the awkward “A Major Minor Drag.”
Highlights occur with a change of musical styles midway through, as when programmed beats mix with rich upright bass and jazz guitar around female backing vocals, leading to a huge horn-led finale on “Whatever, Mortal” while “So La” goes straight up with pulsating basses and handclaps to end.
The oddly funky “Police Dog Blues” (inspired by horrific Minneapolis police brutality) is a standout album. A scintillating lineup, deep bass, booming backing vocals, below-the-surface guitar solos, and random horns combine as an experience Prince To cut; on an album with slow and long songs, “Police Dog Blues” seems to find another gear as it approaches the six-minute mark, leaving the listener nervous.
Wagner is not limited by location, genre or subject, and at 64 he continues to forge ahead with Lambchop, delivering his music with restrained tempo and majestic tonality on The Bible.