Slow and lyrical, Kurt Wagner draws the circle near its close with hints that the rambling alt-country Lambchop apparatus might be coming to an end. Approaching his mid-fifties, Wagner cites age and the economics of hosting as large a body of musicians as sometimes shares his stage as reasons for the possible eventual demise of the band. Nevertheless, he says, “I felt Lambchop had one more good record in us.”
That record happens to be the sombre and melancholic Mr. M, Lambchop’s eleventh studio album. Backed with sweeping strings, horns, and a delicate rhythm section, Mr. M is meant as a reflection on the loss of Wagner’s good friend and fellow musician Vic Chestnutt who passed away in 2009. Wagner’s heavy, halting delivery shows every sign that the pain is still close by. Unfortunately, it also tends to undermine the album’s muted melodies. With the majority of songs running over five minutes, it becomes all too easy for the listener to get lost in the sprawling and sparse guitar notes.
The overall result owes more to atmosphere than content. It’s something one would hope to discover at the end of a long Nashville night, drifting into a dimly lit nameless lounge, somewhere off the main drag, the honky-tonk long since gone. The ghosts of Leonard Cohen, the Eagles, and even Brooklyn’s Dirty Projectors, hide in the hanging cigarette smoke. Sadly, Mr. M never burns with any incandescent intensity, but rather it’s warm embers remain to give a soft, comforting glow.