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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009

Lambchop

OH (ohio) (Merge Records)

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While nearly impossible to describe without the perfunctory "sleepy" label, Lambchop seems especially well settled into their languid leanings on OH. From the gentle pull of an "oh, oh, ohio" that leads into the title track, there's less of everything big-electric, strings, piano balladry-that the band has used since 2001's Nixon, and much more of their well-worn, old-shoe country warmness.

Singer Kurt Wagner still delivers melancholy steeped with an almost-palpable puppy-dog face ("the blackbird sings the sun to bed," "green doesn't matter when you're blue"), but there's also a newfangled playfulness and optimism that keeps full-blown navel-gazing just at arm's length. Sentiments such as "I believe in you" and "I will find you" rub against Zappa-isms about being a "ditzy housewife" and song titles like "National Talk Like a Pirate Day."

Awash in gentle guitars, tumbling melodies and soft atmospherics, Wagner's lounge-styled Bacharach delivery informs a sweeping feel of intimacy and earthy loveliness of the likes not found elsewhere in Nashville, let alone alt-country. As the tunes brush against one another, each lending mellowness to the next, they become less distinguishable and the album garners a cinematic scope: the near-perfect vibe of a soundtrack to a sad day.