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Our critics' picks in new releases



The many members of the musical collective known as Lambchop, led by canny white soulster-crooner Kurt Wagner, explore the Nixon myth and come up with their most '70s-inspired, sweet soul-music platter to date. Wagner's Curtis Mayfield fixation has never been more obvious, and the production--slick, canned-sounding string sections, horns, vibraphone and falsetto "oooohs"--give Nixon the sophisticated well-oiled mood of '70s crossover soul (besides the Impressions, think Chi-Lites, think Spinners).

There's nary a twang to be found from the Nashville-based, professedly country "back porch orchestra," but their reinterpretation of sugary soul (Barry White huffin' helium) takes the genre into Lambchop's own loose, charm-infused, liquor-sippin' territory. (Fittingly, they've collaborated with Southern soul mate Vic Chesnutt on occasion.) Lyrically, Wagner is a gem, whether we find him out drinking on the back porch--composing lines to a discarded dog bone--or celebrating the "doin' it" side of procreation on the strummy, gospel-choir-driven track "Up With People." In Wagner's nimble mind, the saga of Nixon's rise and fall is a jumping point for his own wryly-poetic ruminations: His phrase-bending, falsetto delivery layered over the songs' cheesy string-and-horn-drenched arrangements is a big part of Lambchop's weird charm. It's also what catapults them into a whole new territory. Of course, younger Lambchop-heads might think Wagner and crew invented syrupy soul. Not invented, but definitely resurrected.

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