LAMBCHOP – forever saddled with Merge Records mid-90s hype tag (“Nashville’s most fucked up country band”) – is the most consistently innovative group of the past 20 years. Many groups reinvent themselves with each new record but most fail – Lambchop, on the other hand, has done so successfully more times than any artist since David Bowie. It’s just that nobody’s noticed. Their music expanded beyond Nashville years ago, and has incorporated everything from chamber pop to 70s soul and funk, noise rock to mellow old Opry, and the records have all been a lot of fun.
Lambchop will be performing at the Dakota on Thursday night, making their first appearance in the Twin Cities since they toured on the 2002 album Is A Woman. No short collection or description could capture the enormous range of this group’s eleven albums, nor their dozens of side projects, tour packages, bizarre singles and early cassette releases.
Today’s post attempts to capture some of the group’s various leanings and influences by featuring the songs they’ve chosen to cover over the years.
TOP FIVE covers by Lambchop
#5 “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)” by Curtis Mayfield
Lambchop’s fourth album, What Another Man Spills, was released in 1980. It opens with a rich flamenco-styled guitar solo, an over the course of three quarters of an hour incorporates nearly everything the group would do in the coming years in some primordial way or another. It’s not the best Lambchop album but it is the seminal Lambchop album. This was the year Merge should have dropped the original “fucked up country” moniker and started calling the group chamber pop. Or borrowed from the Twin Cities own Dillinger Four, who released a collection around the same time titled This Shit is Genius.
Their take on Curtis Mayfield’s slow jam from Superfly is all energy and groove. It was the subject of the first of many bizarre Lambchop remixes, it was a dancefloor classic in my living room until people made fun of my roomate and I, and it was better than the original (oh no, he di’int!).
#4 “I’m A Stranger Here” by Hank Williams
Everybody should have a Hank Williams song in their repertoire. Lambchop’s 10″ EP Hank opens with theirs, a lazy, pedal steel-drenched version of “I’m a Stranger Here”. Hank is by its very nature their most “country” record, and far more accessible than the group’s quiet second album, How I Quit Smoking. The record has been out of print for years but if you buy the disc you get an extra song. I think “I’m a Stranger Here” is the first cover to appear on one of their records.
#3 “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long” by Frederick Knight
You can hear this Stax classic anytime by dropping a quarter into the Hymie’s jukebox (or you can click to this post and get high). Lambchop take on Frederick Knight’s sole hit is pretty faithful, suggesting the influence the other Nashville had on the group around mid-career and beyond. Kurt Wagner’s falsetto, making it’s first prominent appearance with this track on What Another Man Spills, would be a highlight of the band’s next album, the epic masterpiece Nixon.
#2 “Love TKO” by Teddy Pendergrass
Lambchop has recorded with an ever-evolving lineup, ranging from six to as many as eighteen members, and their live sets vary as a result (they seem amazingly flexible as a result – I guess you could say Lambchop is Nashville’s Liminal Phase). They finally issued a live disc when they released their set from the 20th Anniversary celebration for Merge Records, the amazing little label that could (and did). Previously the only live tracks fans could find were passed over the internet, except for this lush, soulful take of Teddy Pendergrass’ 1980 make-out maker “Love TKO”, which was included in their B-sides & rarities collection Tools in the Dryer.
#1 “I Believe in You” by Don Williams
I found a copy of Don Williams Greatest Hits Volume III in the deck in my brother’s truck a few days after he died. I imagine that was what he was listening to when he left my house the last time I saw him, and I guess it’s caused me to have a strange affinity for the gentle giant of country music. “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” was one of my brother’s favorite songs, and “I Believe in You” proved to be surprisingly timeless when Lambchop re-recorded it.
It’s interesting that a band known for it’s superfluous arrangements would strip down a song by Don Williams, an artists whose records around the era of “I Believe in You” (1980) could fairly be described as over-produced. Lambchop’s “I Believe in You” is surprisingly subdued, even a little resigned. It’s an old man’s love song, in a way the very opposite of “Give me your Love (Love Song)” – It’s also a comforting end to their most recent album before this year’s Mr. M, which happens to be my favorite. OH (Ohio) captures a lot of the anxious uncertainty I was experiencing the spring that my brother passed away, and to this day a few tracks on the disc make me well up. “A Hold of You” make me blubber.
Very few bands who made their debut in the mid 90s have endured (fun fact: the Spin Doctors just released a 20th Anniversary edition of Pocketful of Kryptonite). Lambchop hasn’t only endured – they’ve created several of the best albums released in recent years. Mr. M is an excellent example of their potential range and I’m excited to hear the new songs along with a few classics (really, really hopin’ against all odds to hear “Let’s Go Bowling”) on Thursday.
They also covered the theme from The Barney Miller Show and Dallas, and three songs by FM Corndog on their album Thriller. They also issued covers of the Stones’ “Backstreet Girl” (an overlooked track from Flowers) and “This Corrosion” by the Sisters of Mercy on a bonus disc with early copies of Is A Woman. The latter would be #1 on this playlist but some jackass borrowed the disc from me and never returned it.
Tomorrow: Top five weirdest songs by Lambchop. Don’t miss it!