Record Review 

Though always warm and inviting, it's been hard to describe the music of the expansive Nashville ensemble Lambchop as "intimate." At one point or another, 20 different musicians (usually in combinations of up to a dozen) have contributed to Lambchop's muted patina. But with their sixth album, Is a Woman, Lambchop presents an album less sprawling, both in terms of personnel and playing.

Featuring at its center new member Tony Crow on keys -- coupled with gentle guitar and the occasional slow swell of sax or science fiction-like trills -- Is a Woman uses piano as a more-than-adequate foil to the dry poetry of singer Kurt Wagner. Wrapped in minimalist arrangements, the often-mislabeled-as-alt-country assemblage has traded its more recent explorations of blue-eyed soul for restrained soul searching. Favoring introspection over instrumentation, Is a Woman's chamber pop fills the ears with weary, bleary imagery seemingly viewed through the smoke-filled eyes of a lounge singer playing to a tiny, hushed half-full hotel bar.

No stranger to tragic characters, Lambchop populates Is a Woman with shadowy figures bathed by blue moons, trying valiantly to navigate the past. Its songs are a series of rich recollections. And as with much of life, thinking back on Lambchop's subtleties only makes their impressions more impressive over time.

-- Tony Ware

Lambchop plays the Echo Lounge Thurs., Feb. 28.

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