Kort

Invariable Heartache

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The aptly named Kort is a collaboration between Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell, two Nashville musicians whose credentials lie well outside the Music City mainstream: Wagner fronts the long-running Lambchop; Tidwell has released a couple of electronic art-pop records. Invariable Heartache is their heartfelt, albeit idiosyncratic, tribute to their hometown's venerable tradition of commercially oriented country music. More specifically, it finds the duo, along with a crack ensemble of local players (most of them members of Lambchop and/or Tidwell's band) laying down a set of obscure cover tunes primarily drawn from the '60s and '70s catalog of Chart records, the label run by Tidwell's grandfather, A&R'd by her dad, and for which her late mother recorded. The material spans slick, tuneful country-pop, plenty of soulful ballads, a bit of '50s-ish R&B ("Yours Forever"), playful semi-novelty songs (the good-naturedly bawdy "Wild Mountain Berries"), and one truly bizarre oddity ("Penetration," which sounds like the group having some sort of post-modern laugh but was apparently the most scrupulously reverent arrangement here; one wonders if that includes Tony Crow's haunted, abstract, minute-long piano intro.) Though there's a definite tendency toward endearingly formulaic schmaltz, many of the selections offer some sort of ear-catching quirk or lyrical distinction, be it hokey wordplay -- as with "I Can't Sleep With You" [...On My Mind]" -- or an especially heart-rending sentiment, like the self-explanatory "Incredibly Lonely," which provides the album's more-accurate-than-not title. Crucially, the band brings just the right touch to these performances, their obvious fondness and reverence for the material never getting in the way of a loose, expressive feel, with some very fine bits of soloing and lots of enjoyably breezy ensemble playing. That's doubly true of the vocals, which in some ways could have been this project's most hit-or-miss element. As it turns out, Wagner's characteristically laconic, crotchety-sounding, hyper-articulated delivery pairs beautifully with Tidwell's versatile but generally sweet-as-pie pipes. Certainly, they generate enough of a rapport to make one wish that more than half of the tunes were proper duets; while Tidwell can manage an effortless, spine-tingling Patsy Cline evocation, her five vocal features (Wagner only gets one, sounding pitifully dour on the legitimately poetic "April's Fool") tend to be the record's weaker links. The exception there is the closer, and sole non-chart inclusion (her mother sang it for ABC/Dunhill), "Who's Gonna Love Me Now," which is about as immaculately devastating as you could wish.

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