The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years

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Lambchop is a group that takes an obvious pride in working on a grand scale -- this is a band that's swelled to as many as 16 members at times and in 2004 released two full-length albums on the same day -- so it should come as no surprise that they've come up with more worthwhile material than they've found room for on their LPs. The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years compiles 18 performances that otherwise haven't appeared on a Lambchop album: compilation appearances, B-sides, contributions to split singles, unreleased alternate takes, and one brand new number, "Gettysburg Address." No one familiar with Lambchop should be surprised that this compilation reflects the stylistic shape-sifting that's part of the group's raison d'etre; while the witty but cryptic lyrics and evocatively murmured vocals of leader Kurt Wagner are the glue that holds this set together, musically this disc runs the gamut from thundering guitar-powered rock enriched with horns and steel guitar ("The Scary Caroler"), the jazzy atonalities of "Burly and Johnson," and the muted trumpets and electronic treatments of "Two Kittens Don't Make a Puppy" to the shambolic but easygoing drift of "Ovary Eyes" and the white-bread soul strut of "Alumni Lawn." About the only thing that unites this stuff is that Lambchop is going to do what they want to do, and it's always going to be at least interesting, while the best music is wildly evocative and truly moving stuff. However, given the scattershot nature in which this was recorded, The Decline of Country & Western Civilization isn't especially cohesive, and a few tunes were clearly saved for B-sides because they weren't quite A-list material. Still, anyone who already loves Lambchop will find several reminders of why on this collection, and it'll tide over fans until Wagner and Company release their next major statement.

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