The opening line of the sleeve notes to Lambchop’s eleventh album Mr M tells you pretty much all you need to know about the love and effort involved. It simply reads “Dedicated to the memory of James Victor Chesnutt, November 12, 1964 – December 25, 2009”.
Vic Chesnutt was the close friend and musical collaborator of Lambchop lynchpin Kurt Wagner. His death, from an overdose of muscle relaxants, left Wagner devastated.
Although not all the songs are about him, Mr M is as good as you will hear to a tribute to Mr Chesnutt. Among the tracks that are most overtly a tribute is Nice Without Mercy, one of Wagner’s best ever songs. With lyrics such as “And the warm comes back, even though I thought it would not” he perfectly captures how the pain of bereavement can switch so easily to the joy of remembering the wonderful times with the person who is gone.
Wagner says the idea for the sound of the album, with its lush string arrangements, came from Mark Nevers, producer of Will Oldham and former Lambchop member. Nevers refered to it pretentiously as psycho-Sinatra and that was enough to hook Wagner in and enlist Nevers as producer.
Among the many highlights are the title track of sorts Mr Met, it was to be the original title until the threat of legal complications arose as the New York Mets have a mascot of the same name. Its cinematic quality and complex string arrangements drift in and out of its country roots effortlessly. Lounge instrumental Gar is another highpoint, unashamedly sentimental and works well teeing up Nice Without Mercy.
As Lambchop albums go Mr M lurks somewhere between the soulful sound of Nixon and the intimacy of Is A Woman. Its tender subject matter and strings give the impression that Wagner is drifting up to heaven with Chesnutt himself at times. One of the most beautiful albums of the year.
by Joe Lepper