LAMBCHOP: OH (OHIO) [Merge]

Kurt Wagner has finally admitted what’s been true all along: No matter how many dozens of Nashville musicians play on his records, Lambchop is a solo project, one growing more intimate by the moment. He’s now winnowed the tootling, banging and strumming masses down to a septet, a move that’s brought new focus and coherence to Wagner’s increasingly soft songwriting and dry, unmistakable sing-speak. “I’m such a bad enunciator/ Understanding me is hard,” he sings on “A Hold Of You,” but the emotional tenor on Lambchop’s 10th LP is hard to miss. Not that there’s anything wrong with being touchy and tender, but the calm, spare arrangements on OH (ohio) can only be described as pretty. The temperature rises on the midtempo “National Talk Like A Pirate Day” and near rocker “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.”; elsewhere, tasteful horns (often a Lambchop strength) return. On 2006’s aptly titled Damaged, Wagner had just survived a health scare and was elegiac and emotionally fragile. That mood continues here on the quiet, bossa-nova-tinged “Ohio,” whose chorus lyric is “Green doesn’t matter when you’re blue.” OH is like listening to one long, quiet conversation where Wagner tells us his secrets. [www.mergerecords.com]

—Robert Baird

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