Tools in the Dryer

Nov 7, 2001 at 12:00 am

Good news for those who’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the writhing musical mass that is Lambchop: This new rarities compilation will have you up to speed in no time. Tools in the Dryer documents the band’s evolution from a three-member basement-rock project to a 14-member rock-soul-country battalion, and illustrates why fans have had to constantly re-evaluate Lambchop with each tiny change in the group’s personnel and style over the past 15 years.

The album’s first section contains the sort of songs for which the Nashville band has become justly renowned in recent years. They’re slow and gorgeous pop numbers stuffed with curious moments that make you cock your head like Victor the RCA dog. “Whitey,” in fact, is perhaps the quintessential Lambchop song. Aside from the terrific melody (delivered in Kurt Wagner’s nicotine-blunted murmur), the tune emphasizes Paul Niehaus’s brilliant pedal steel work, a soulful horn section and Scott Chase’s unique Home Depot percussion (wrenches and a lacquer thinner can).

Six songs into the album, though, things get a bit weird, even by Lambchop standards. The pre-Merge home recordings are fun if insubstantial; no one is going to name the recorder workout “All Over the World” among the band’s most significant output. Elsewhere, there’s a stellar live performance of a Teddy Pendergrass song (!) and two indescribably bizarre dance remixes. But even if some of the songs are anomalies from a stylistic standpoint, they still reward the listener, thus staying perfectly representative of the band. Just like all of Lambchop’s music, Tools in the Dryer is as surprising and thrilling as putting on an old jacket and finding a $20 bill in the pocket.

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