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Review: Lambchop/Hands Off Cuba – CoLAB

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There’s a new sound emanating from Nashville and it’s got nothing to do with redneck women or Honky Tonk U. alumni for a change. Indie veterans Lambchop, known for their lush, mellow take on country and pop music, have teamed up with “semi-reclusive” electronic duo Hands Off Cuba for that oh-so-rare event in their native Nashvegas: an actual musical experiment.

CoLAB is a four-song collaborative EP that was recorded in late 2004 and early 2005. The first song, “Prepared,” is a fleshed-out Lambchop song that was inspired by the music of Hands Off Cuba. The remaining three songs are Lambchop compositions that have been sliced, diced and transformed by Ryan Norris and Scott Martin, the aforementioned duo.

“Prepared” will be familiar territory for Lambchop fans. Norris and Martin add a few programmed sounds in the background, but it is for all intents and purposes a Lambchop song, complete with the comforting closeness of Kurt Wagner’s glorious, uncool baritone.

“Blur,” “Women” and “Gus” are a different matter altogether. Hands Off Cuba have radically deconstructed Lambchop’s sound to the point of being unrecognizable. There are snippets of piano and vibes here and there between the blips and beeps to remind people what they’re listening to, but Norris and Martin take it to an altogether different dimension. Programmed beats and abrupt tempo changes form the ever-shifting backbone of the music, making it less mellow but more dreamy at the same time.

The result is far more captivating than you might imagine. Listeners who are new to Lambchop would do well to check out some of their other material on Merge first, but CoLAB is definitely worth a listen. It may throw Lambchop fans for a loop, but it’s a good sign that the band’s creative juices are flowing. (Merge reassures fans that this is not a portent of things to come on the next full-length album.)

CoLAB is really the coming out party for Hands Off Cuba who prove, along with bands like Lambchop who are willing to take creative risks, that music may not be dead in Music City after all. Tennessean is tennebelievin’.

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