Label – Merge
The months preceding the release of “Damaged” had been extremely tough for Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner. Just prior to recording the singer/songwriter required surgery for a mouth cyst so aggressive it required not only surgical removal, but facial reconstructive work using transplanted bone from his hip to complete the procedure. Add to that a cancer scare, and one understands both the title and the introspective tones of this long player. The surgery left his voice weakened and if one listens closely there is an almost painful click as new bone and muscle grapple with singing like a kid getting to grips with a new brace/retainer. It sounds uncomfortable and obviously difficult for Wagner to deliver his lines, and given the recent trials in his life one would have expected a melancholic musical experience full of mournful and bleak statements of reflection. Surprisingly, this is far from the case as Wagner’s prose verges on highlighting the mundane, the simple pathos of an ordinary life. “Paperback Bible”, the opener and one of the outstanding songs bears out his pursuit of a thoroughly normal perspective as he sings of the useless crap people try to sell at Yard sales, with references including “Yeah I’d like to find a 27″ color TV, has to be non working, as RCA ’cause I need the parts”.
What shines through is the arrangements and careful instrumentation. Traditional country interwoven with a symphonic mix of strings, creating a deliciously warm grandeur, a swirling interplay of tinkling piano’s and gently picked acoustic guitars. Whilst Wagner’s vocal performance is limited, the backing provides the gentle melodies, wholly supporting his frail delivery and resulting in one of the most beautifully musical albums of the decade. There’s sweet simplicity to “A Day Without Glasses”, a surging quality to “Beers Before The Barbican”, and the sad realization of the damage of infidelity on “Short”. There is even room for a random various issues rant on the closer, “The Decline Of Country And Western Civilization”, as Wagner is almost venomous as he snarls “Well I hate Nathan Bedford Forrest, he’s the featured artist in the Devil’s chorus”, referring to the first Grandmaster of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Damaged” champions everything that is still important about organic instrumental music, and although flawed at times by Kurt Wagner’s vocal challenges contains enough elements to leave you realizing that “Nixon”, the critics favourite, has a new major challenger.
“Paperback Bible” – 7:48
“Prepared ” – 6:03
“The Rise and Fall of the Letter P” – 3:36
“A Day Without Glasses” – 4:11
“Beers Before the Barbican” – 4:51
“I Would Have Waited Here All Day” – 4:02
“Crackers” – 4:11
“Fear” – 5:00
“Short” – 3:48
“The Decline of Country and Western Civilization” – 4:36