Slow, elegaic and unhurried, it settles like summer dust on the ears and never once...
Chris Jones 2002
Firstly let's get the blasphemy out of the way. While the world swooned for Lambchop's last big crossover album, Nixon, your correspondent remained oddly untouched. Its sweeping soundscapes, rustic plaintiveness and nods to Curtis Mayfield all added up to a strangely uninvolving experience. At last year's Festival Hall gig the use of a small army of musicians to convey the multi-layered ambience resulted in any intimacy being swamped. Is A Woman certainly resolves these issues, for Kurt Wagner and pals have produced something so unassuming and intimate that it takes several listens before it even registers on the conscious mind. With a stripped down honesty, this album brings Wagner's vision back to your own front door.
Employing what seems on first inspection to be a simple backdrop of piano, acoustic guitar and barely discernible rhythm, Wagner recounts snippets of his world that seem to come from the observation of life in its minutest detail. Nature is writ large in a kind of Thoreau meets Garisson Keillor way. These are barely songs, more light sketches with fragmentary glimpses of the mundane transformed by language which is at once colloquial and transcendent. "My Blue Wave" waxes lyrical about his dog ("You lay around the house, nothin' much to bark about. Jump onto the bed, just bones and squirrels inside your head"), "The New Cobweb Summer" spins a narrative thread out of seemingly nothing just like, umm& a cobweb. And so it goes for nearly all of this subdued little (flawed) masterpiece. It's a quiet which stems from confidence and the only times that the band actually approach anything like an upbeat stance, are on the wryly amusing "D Scott Parsley" and the title track which, believe it or not, is a reggae song!
Ultimately this is a mood piece. Slow, elegaic and unhurried, it settles like summer dust on the ears and never once presumes to pierce the aura of quiet contemplation. As to its meaning? The abstract wordplay always restricts the listener's total acceptance, and the album's very sameness can let the mind wander a little too much. Yet Wagner's muse will always provide a compelling view and should be treasured for at least daring to steer its own path through the woods.