BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
When first released in early 2000, Nixon not only established Kurt Wagner and his rotating band of compatriots as forces to be reckoned with, but also established a bar that effectively set a new standard. A return from a period of relative hibernation, it was both an imaginative display of genre-hopping innovation and also a set of songs that dissolved the boundaries between inspiration and ambition. From its opening notes, the brassy cascade that kicks off “The Old Gold Shoe,” through to the emotional peaks scaled in “Nashville Parent” and “The Book I Haven’t Read,” Lambchop’s masterful combination of rock, lounge, country, gospel and vintage folk is dazzling to say the least. Capped with Wagner’s soaring falsetto and assured, soulful stride, the songs represent a conceptual conceit that’s just as dazzling well over a decade later. If the new alternative crowd could claim their own Sgt. Pepper, then Nixon would be its prime contender.
Now re-released as part of its record label’s 25th anniversary commemoration, Nixon proves as compelling as ever, and with the added bonus of five live solo songs from Mr. Wagner –1998’s How I Met Cat Power from the so-called “White Sessions” — there’s added incentive to revisit this gem. Despite the lack of a backing band – tape loops provide the only accompaniment — Wagner retains his compelling edge, previewing various tracks that would show up on later Lambchop endeavors, Nixon among them. Remarkably, the single most moving moment comes at its conclusion with the plaintive plea of “The Saturday Option,” a song tailor-made for an as-yet-unimagined mega musical.
DOWNLOAD: “The Saturday Option,” “Nashville Parent,” “The Book I Haven’t Read”