Archive for Kurt Wagner

#1: Lambchop – Turd Goes Back: Essential Tracks from Secret Secret Sourpuss & Big Tussie – Grapefruit Records

Posted in Gold with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by xxx

Album Art

First of all, download the files at the bottom of the post.

No one seems to know how to categorize Nashville’s Lambchop. The most common genre-tag slapped on to their music is “alt-country”. Probably due to singer/songwriter Kurt Wagner’s southern-tinged vocals, his acoustic guitar, laid-back style and unconventional songwriting. However, anyone who has listened to a Lambchop album or two (you really need to listen to a couple albums to really get a grasp of how diverse this band’s musical output is) knows that this is more than “alt-country”, whatever that means.

Kurt Wagner of Lambchop

Turd Goes Back is a compilation of Lambchop’s first two cassette releases: Secret Secret Sourpuss and Big Tussie put together by Wagner and released by the brand-new Grapefruit Record Club. In fact, this limited vinyl-only release is Grapefruit’s first release of four planned for their first year. The vinyl was available only to subscribers and is limited to 314 copies.

The selections offer the listener a glimpse into Lamchop’s awkward teenage years, so to speak. While the songs are very lo-fi and often times juvenile in comparison to the band’s more modern releases, this collection of songs fully captures the experimental nature of Lambchop’s music that has become apparent through the band’s later work.

Packaging for Original Cassette

Side A:

The album opener “The Fish Fry” for example is not quite a song according to our typical understanding of the term. Wagner plucks his guitar while remembering the good ol’ days when you could buy a piece of fish for a nickel. In description, is sounds like it could be a southern blues song with a splash of humor. However, it stands out in that Wagner isn’t singing us a song, he is telling us a story. Literally he is speaking to the listener with a plain and casual voice. It is the sort of thing you could imagine happening on a front porch somewhere in the south, an old man on guitar, playing carelessly and sharing a story of days past. While the song is filled with longing for days passed, it isn’t hitting you over the head with hyperbole or poeticism. As a sort of aural wasabi the following song “Daktari” is a lo-fi, noisy piece speckled by obscure and humorous vocal samples coming from who knows what all held together by a simple and repetitive drum beat. “My Cliche” is the album’s first song song, sloppy electric-organ riffs over a repetitive drum beat (again), topped with Kurt Wagners wavering vocals, slightly wet with tape echo. The singer is obviously young and perhaps less confident than he is even on 1994’s I Hope You’re Sitting Down (the band’s first LP). “They Were Made For Eachother” is an early prototype of what has become the typical Lambchop song as we’ve come to know them. Wagners pitched-down vocals make him sound like a stoned-out version of himself.  In the song Wagner shares several rather commonplace scenarios, “Everytime I sit down, all the change falls out of my pockets, it happened at the restaurant, it happened at the movie-house next door”. Perhaps he is telling the story of some simpleton characters who “were made for each other”. More importantly he is putting to song, experiences that most of us can relate to. It’s nothing big or complex but that is why it’s so important. The next song, “Que Sera Sera” is a sort of a cover of the classic, with a modern twist. It sounds like a teenage angst-driven type of song, but Wagner admits, “I know I’m 28” after admitting he’s depressed, with nothing to be depressed about. The song ends with a verbal exchange between Wagner and one of his fellow musicians as they giggle to each other and joke about the future. “Came Home Late” is probably as close to actual country as this album is going to get. Over acoustic guitar finger-picking, Wagner and another voice harmonize about coming home late to a “gas range on my front porch… fresh roses on the table“. Megalomaniac” is weird at best. A little 4-track vocal experiment from the sounds of it. Side closer, “Old Dog Blue”, is the Lambchop version of the classic Jim Jackson folk song. Wagner performs it in a comedic kind of hillbilly voice that makes the song seem like a spoof. The song and side end abruptly.

Side B:

The second side starts with a gorgeous and more familiar type of Lambchop song. All at once deeply poetic, somber yet beautiful. The instrumentation is moving and well organized, unlike most of the haphazard-sounding arrangements from Side A. “Soaky in the Pooper” is classic Lambchop at it’s best. This song was rerecorded for the first Lambchop LP. “The Music City Shits” is a little interlude that has something to do with someone running around Nashville with a bad case of the runs. “Oh Noooooo” is the perfect title for the next song, Wagner sings with a pseudo-delta blues type of croon, with a very tongue-in-cheek sort of bend. The tape echo is back again, this time with more oscillations. A strangely comedic song. “All Over the World” has one of those now familiar drum beats, kind of like a toned down punk beat. This is a lo-fi number with Wagner singing too close to the mic, guitar low in the mix this time, with recorders (?) taking the forefront. Nothing too spectacular here in my humble opinion. “Fa-Q” is quite humorously titled (just sound it out), and is a really beautiful song. The guitar playing is gorgeous with it’s wavering intensity. Wagner’s delivery is more speedy and rhyme-based than I’ve heard before, evoking the great Dylan. This slows down for the delivery of the titular chorus, a sweet, “Faaaaa-kyu”. Tape echo finds it’s way back here, it seems a little over-used and unnecessary at this point. The song, side and record ends on a high note.

Final Notes:

The boys over at Grapefruit Record Club screwed up a little bit with this release. Not only was it’s release delayed, but they printed the records without the final two songs included on the B-side. That being said, I think the press sounds great considering it is coming off of a cassette tape. I also commend them for releasing artists with such a niche audience; all of their shortcoming are forgiven since we are talking about a hyper-independent label, run by musicians, putting out such quality material. Check them out here, maybe even subscribe, if they haven’t run out of room already?

I think that this is a very well put together selection of early Lambchop rarities. A must-have for any fan of the band, and perhaps the ideal jumping-off point for any newcomers (it only gets better from here). Listening to these songs helps paint a fuller picture of Lambchop and it’s main creative force: Kurt Wagner. It’s playful, humorous and emotional, sometimes but not always at the same time. These are qualities that carry through the rest of the Lambchop ouevre. Calling the music alt-country is nothing more than an easy way to label something that is otherwise undefinable. Maybe it will sell better that way. What this music really is, is the work of a musical auteur, a single man’s creative conceptions captured onto tape. It draws from a rich history of American music, but unlike much modern blues, folk, country, what-have-you, this music is not derivative. Lambchop is one of the rare bands who are pushing American music to new grounds with their loose adherence to formula and strict disregard for genre.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned. JRH.

Files: FLAC (note: you can play FLAC files with VLC media player); MP3; Missing Songs

Further Reading (watching/listening):

Grapefruit Records Page

Old Dog Blue (Jim Jackson)

Lambchop Doc (Pt. 1)

Lambchop Doc (Different One; Pt. 1)