Lambchop – Aw Cmon / No You Cmon

Aw Cmon / No You Cmon

In many ways, the rapid release of another full-length Lambchop album seemed unlikely. With the band seemingly coming full circle with the commercially successful country-soul of Nixon (2000) and its tranquil finality-aired sequel, Is a Woman (2002), a lengthy hiatus or even a trial separation appeared to be on the cards. The increasing demands of extra-curricular activities also suggested the band was no longer a full-time priority for each and every band member. What with solo records (from Deanna Varagona, Paul Burch), moonlighting (Paul Niehaus with Calexico), production work (Mark Nevers), and one-man tours (Kurt Wagner), all implying mutual desires to work away from the band unit, the almost sudden simultaneous release of two Lambchop albums is a somewhat unexpected surprise.
Those fearing some kind of inadvisably drastic ying-yang relationship between these two albums, or even a highfalutin prog-rock-like concept, should rest easy. These two records are really nothing much more than the product of prolific productivity from singer/songwriter Kurt Wagner since he quit his backbreaking day job and a shared desire to re-energise group democracy after the sparsely adorned Is a Woman. The two albums should really be taken as one 24-track whole (a point reinforced with City Slang’s decision to release as Aw Cmon and No You Cmon as 2CD/2LP sets in Europe). Admittedly, there are slight differential moods between the two; Aw Cmon is a tad more laid-back and more lush in arrangement, whereas No You Cmon is a little edgier and looser, but generally speaking these are/this is one big long album with an old vinyl-style pause in-between.
Stylistically, the two collections revisit and represent pretty much everything that Lambchop do (more or less) so well. The all-encompassing approach recalls the eclectic smorgasbord moodswings of the band’s double-length/dual-named 1994 debut I Hope You’re Sitting Down/Jack’s Tulips and the last essential “Chop album, 1998’s What Another Man Spills. That’s not to say that the musicians don’t push themselves forwards of course; there’s a good few surprises (mainly within the plethora of instrumentals) and the band’s growing unpretentious professionalism undoubtedly delivers the songs with even greater care and attention to detail than ever before.
Throughout the two albums, Lambchop effortlessly and repeatedly cross country, rock, soul, jazz, and cinematic borders. The instrumental likes of “Jan. 24” and “Sunrise” (No You Cmon) as well as “The Lone Official ” and “Being Tyler” (Aw Cmon) even manage to represent all of the above, blending John Barry strings, Stax soul arrangements, and Morricone twang into joyous wordless interludes. There’s plenty of soulful barroom balladry along the way, with “Women Help to Create the Kind of Men They Despise” and “I Haven’t Heard a Word I’ve Said” (both Aw Cmon) being led by Tony Crow’s masterful piano lines and Wagner’s ever-warm whiskey and tobacco tones. There’s also more of the same delicate near-ambient intimacies that drove Is a Woman, with “Action Figure” (Aw Cmon) being the best example. Space is even allocated for the Velvets-like “Nothing Adventurous Please” and “The Gusher,” which revisit some of the more rocking strains of the band’s work that previously found a way on to 1997’s Thriller and the aforementioned What Another Man Spills. For all the genre-hopping, it’s still Wagner’s weathered and witty worldview that binds the twosome into some kind of cohesive whole, touching as he does so splendidly and amusingly on the minutiae of our mortal lives. The fact Wagner has also ditched the cringe-worthy falsetto that he blighted Nixon with also helps him to sustain a combined mood of gentility and gravitas on these two long-players.
Admittedly, this two-headed beast, however benevolent, isn’t a flawless creation. There’s the inevitable White Album-style filler to bulk up the tracklist. Meaning that the likes of “Shang a Dang Dang” (a rather daft cowboy dance hoe-down from No You Cmon) would have been better left on the cutting-room floor in the same way that George Harrison’s infamously stupid “Savoy Truffle” should have been dropped from The Beatles’ semi-classic twofer. Also, to a degree many of these songs belong to their mothership, and most of them might not function so well stuck out in the open. In short, there aren’t quite enough individually great Lamchop songs here to make it a totally classic statement. There’s no real contenders to the same crown as “The Man Who Loved Beer” or “Up with People” amongst the massed ranks, though the gorgeous “Something’s Going On” (Aw Cmon) and the wry “Low Ambition” (No You Cmon) do come pretty damn close.
Whilst Aw Cmon and No You Cmon, aren’t likely to make the same commercial or critical crossover leap as Nixon and Is a Woman, they will undoubtedly keep long-serving and loyal fans sated for a some time. Besides, the courage and determination that Lambchop has used to bring us these concept-less concept albums, with such loving and generous craftsmanship, certainly counts for a hell of a lot in these pre- and re-packaged musical times. Bless “em.