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After the ambitious sweep of releasing two full albums on a single day in 2004 and creating a collaborative electronic EP with Hands Off Cuba while assembling a collection of singles and rarities in 2005, one can hardly blame Kurt Wagner and his partners in Lambchop for wanting to take on a less challenging project for the group's ninth album proper. And indeed, Damaged is a simpler and more streamlined effort than Lambchop have offered over their last several releases. Damaged is a set of ten elegant tone poems which rarely call full attention to the size and scope of the 15-person ensemble (enhanced with a string section) employed for these sessions. But don't get the idea Wagner and his cohorts have gotten lazy; Damaged is as moving and accomplished an album as this band has ever made, with the subtle but expert musicianship used in the service of a handful of songs which look deep into the heart of longing, disappointment, and the troubling mysteries of faith. If you're hoping for an easy-to-follow narrative from Wagner's songs, you'll be disappointed, but through a collection of accumulated, gestured, offhand asides and occasional confessions of weakness, he creates a world that's telling, poignant, and as real as the dust in the air on a Sunday morning. And the mighty Lambchop ensemble approaches the melodies with the care and dynamics of a great orchestra, where each note is carefully balanced as if it was assembling a house of cards that can miraculously balance a grand piano. While Lambchop's country gestures recede a bit on Damaged, as a master class in the art and craft of record-making in the great Nashville tradition, this album is a true wonder, a quiet and deliberate recording that cumulatively hits with a massive emotional impact. This ranks with the best work of one of America's most original musical visionaries.

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