By Seth Colter Walls
By Brett Koshkin
By Spencer Wilking
By Christina Black
By Calum Marsh
By J. Pablo
By Phillip Mlynar
By Jenna Sauers
Nashvilles Lambchop have been flouting Music Row protocol for so long that their anti-formula has become a formula. Theres no mistaking OH (Ohio), the bands 10th full-length, as anything but the work of frontman Kurt Wagner and his rotating crew of assistants: Right at the top, in opener Ohio, hes mumbling semi-coherently about how green doesnt matter when youre blue over a gorgeous country-soul groove embroidered with lush keys and sparkling hornsand thats pretty much how it goes for the next 49 minutes. (Popeye does sport an unexpected disco-shoegaze coda, but its over before you know it.) Wagner told Billboard recently that he wrote these 11 tunes with the idea of eventually touring them on his own; hes in the midst of a solo jaunt even as we speak. Yet that backstory leads you to anticipate a stripped-down take on Lambchops countrypolitan gloss, which OH (Ohio) thankfully fails to deliver. After all, with a frontman spouting absurdist tone poetry in a monotone that Randy Newman might consider lazy, this band of rhinestone cowboys isnt really the unplugged type. Like Al Gore, without an environment to tend to, they havent much to offer.
On his third long-player since emerging four years ago from the New England wilderness, folk-soul lumberjack Ray LaMontagne breaks from his own proven formula, goosing his delicately ragged croon with bright r&b horns (You Are the Best Thing), spaghetti-western whistles (Meg White), and Black Crowesstyle Southern-rock guitars (Henry Nearly Killed Me [Its a Shame]). Whereas, in the past, longtime producer Ethan Johns kept the sonic clutter to a minimum in order to spotlight LaMontagnes remarkable vocalsRay is somebody you wouldnt mind seeing with only an acoustic for accompanimenthere the pair construct an in-studio ecosystem nearly as elaborate as Lambchops. Even the quiet ones, like the closing title track, feature dramatic chamber-goth string arrangements and twinkly analog-keyboard bits. Yet thanks to sturdy songwritingas usual, dudes ditties feel about as old as dirtthe added luster doesnt entirely conceal the rawness within, which results in a juicy emotional tension. Remember Crocodile Dundee? Its kind of like that.Kurt Wagner plays Joes Pub October 8. Ray LaMontagne plays Radio City Music Hall October 11.
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