The music of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner is almost eerily calm on its surface, but many moving parts roil underneath: Wagner commandeers a large Nashville ensemble that works relentlessly to seem like it's not doing very much, and his words hit harder for the way he humbly and wryly speak-sings them. At their best, Lambchop's records are like kind friends who know how to sugarcoat hard truths.
Out Feb. 21, Mr. M is Lambchop's 11th album, and it's an impeccably appointed set of mostly gentle, always graceful songs. Infused with lovely string arrangements and subtle allusions to loss, they periodically find Wagner trying to come to terms with the 2009 suicide of his friend and kindred spirit, Vic Chesnutt.
But, for an album that once bore the working title Major League Bummer, Mr. M isn't mournful so much as winsome; it's no accident of sequencing that it winds to a close with a redemption song as generous and giant-hearted as "Never My Love." Amid softly plucked acoustic guitars and sweet strings, that song is so direct in its hopefulness and gratitude, it almost sounds as if Wagner is covering Don Williams again. But it's just the sound of a downcast dreamer who, nearly 20 years into his career with Lambchop, is just beginning to find what he's wanted all along.
-- By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Mr. M is available to stream on demand from February 13 through February 20, 2012. The album will be released on February 21, 2012.