The Nashville-based country-esque musical collective Lambchop isn’t exactly the first band that comes to mind when you think â€œlo-fi.â€ Quite the opposite, in fact, given their membership’s high body count, leader Kurt Wagner’s penchant for lush, orchestral arrangements (which, let’s face it, is almost a necessity when you have 73 guys in your band), and the almost magical way Lambchop’s simple, elegant melodies are spun over an often dense but never murky sonic foundation.
And that’s why, if done properly, a band’s collection of its own musical ephemera over the years can be so very revealing. In 2001, 14 years after they formed (originally as Posterchild), Lambchop released Tools in the Dryer, a compendium of A- and B-sides, demos, live recordings, and remixes that did a decent job of pulling together the disparate threads of their myopic melange of musical influences. From some of their very first recordings in 1987 (as a trio!) to a cut pulled from a show in London in 2000 (with a 14-piece band plus an 8-piece string section!!), Tools in the Dryer gives newbies and longtime fans alike a pretty comprehensive, if bipolar, sense of the band.
Listen to “All Over the World” and “Style Monkeys,” for instance, from the circa-1987 Posterchild incarnation of the band. (Bedroom recordings on substandard equipment — a microphone taped to a push broom, rumor has it — resulted in unofficial cassette-only releases with such oddball titles as â€œI’m Fucking Your Daughterâ€ and â€œBig Tussie.â€) Out-of-tune recorders on the former tune, cheezy drum machine on the latter, with Wagner’s prebaritone bawl disturbingly up front in the mix on both, compared to the almost buried vocal mix that, in part, defines the band today. It’s a real sonic archaeology trip, and even if you’re vaguely familiar with Lambchop, you still won’t recognize these songs as Lambchop.
“Each With a Bag of Fries” is a home demo from ’92 that has a more identifiable Lambchop vibe. Maybe it’s just a better tune, but it also displays some of Wagner’s trademarks in spite of the murky recording quality, the buzzing amps in the background, and the general demo-ishness of it all.
“Flowers of Memory” is a live track recorded on what sounds like a boombox at a Memphis coffee-shop-type venue in 1990, and is another example of how a good song can shine through any lo-fi haze, even (especially?) for a band that ultimately evolved into purveyors of first-rate alt-country ork-pop.