Lambchop Hones Restrained Tempo & Majestic Tonality On ‘The Bible’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photo by Mickie Winters

On the newest release from Lambchop, titled The Bible, Kurt Wagner is as far removed from his late-night outcast Nashville days as he has ever been, both physically and sonically. Recorded in Minneapolis in 2021 the songs are ominous iterations of pandemic life.

Working with predominately two main artists/producers, Andrew Broder (Piano, Arrangements, Programming, Electric Guitar) and Ryan Olsen (Arrangements, Editing, Programing, Processing, Beats) Wagner crafted these somber songs as a meditation on existence. There were added choirs, many musicians, and inspirations, but Wagner credits Broder and Olsen as the major contributors to the album’s tones and themes. 

The opening track “His Song Is Sung” is a good example of the record’s overall idea with softly swelling horns, strings, and piano setting the stage before moving into more dirge-like dourness before a skittering digital beat finale.  Nothing is off limits musically for Lambchop and while not all of it works, Wagner and company are up for it all, including robotic vocal effects around dance-laden funky beats during “Little Black Boxes”. Outside of those vocoders, Wagner sings like a-yet-to-warm-up-his-vocal-cords Nick Cave, with the music overriding his lyrics at times. Those remain aloof and poetic painted by half phrases and sketches.

Most of The Bible uses Broder’s piano as the foundation, dipping into laments like on the more reserved and drawn out “Daisy” or weepy steel guitar augmented “Dylan at the Mousetrap” or the warbling “Every Child Begins the World Again”. When the music stays in one area too long the outings drag, such as on the string-based finale “That’s Music” or the clunky “A Major Minor Drag”.    

High points occur with a shifting up of musical styles mid-tune, such as when programmed beats mix with a rich standup bass and jazz guitar around female backing vocals, leading to a huge horn-led finale on “Whatever, Mortal” while “So There” is directly rising with pulsing bass and hand claps to end. 

The oddly funky “Police Dog Blues” (inspired by horrific Minneapolis police brutality) is an album standout. Twinkling programming, deep bass, soaring backup singers, guitar solos under the surface, and random horns combine like an experimental Prince cut; on an album with songs going slow and long, “Police Dog Blues” seems to be finding another gear when approaching the six-minute mark, leaving the listener on edge.

Wagner is not constrained by locale, genre, or topic, and at 64 he continues to forge forward with Lambchop, delivering his music with restrained tempo and majestic tonality on The Bible

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