|Cellophane Rainbow / Michael Bell / Dann Hume / The Sayers / Benjamin Woolner-Kirkham||Safia||4:39|
As a composer, arranger, and performer, Robert Burger has worked with a variety of musicians, including Bill Frisell, Marianne Faithfull, Rufus Wainwright, and Laurie Anderson. This release of selections from his music for film includes tracks from the soundtracks to the films Diminished Capacity (2008, directed by Terry Kinney), and Timescapes: A Portrait of New York (2005, directed by Jake Barton and James Sanders), and a track to accompany Ladislaw Starewicz's The Cameraman's Revenge (1912).
The tracks are brief and aphoristic, most lasting only a minute or two, and they make their statement effectively and bow out before they've worn out their welcome. Burger's music is gently melodic, often rhythmically punchy, comfortable, and familiar sounding, with various folk traditions, jazz and light rock influences filtered through a freely classical sensibility.
He uses mostly a broad assortment of acoustic instruments (including piano, accordion, marimba, vibraphone, assorted percussion, violin, viola, ukulele, and harmonica), but some tracks include electric guitar and keyboards.
The music is notable for its variety and for its delicate, inventive orchestrations. Many tracks have a folk-like sound, but the variety of instruments he uses allows for richer and more varied textures than many conventional, small folk ensembles. Even though the tracks are widely diverse in tone, style, and instrumentation, certain themes return on various tracks, and the album is fully successful as an integrated listening experience. The sound is clean and resonant.
Supposedly a concept album about the disgraced 37th president of the United States (though the lyrics make no recognizable statements about Richard Nixon's infamous life and times), Lambchop's fifth full-length was a powerful consolidation of the strengths they'd gained since their uncertain debut in 1994. Kurt Wagner's sometimes singing/ sometimes talking vocal style, and lyrics that were oblique to the point of seeing surreal, remained a matter of taste, but his melodies hit a new peak in their beauty and evocative spirit as he merged countrypolitan country, smooth R&B, and chamber pop in ambitious and intriguing ways. And as Lambchop swelled to 13 musicians (not counting guest musicians, a choir, and the string section), the arrangements became increasingly sophisticated as Wagner and his collaborators used their rich palette of sounds to inspire a wealth of moods -- from the easygoing groove of "Grumpus" to the luxurious sadness of "Nashville Parent" -- and helped to clarify and strengthen that which seemed uncertain in Wagner's lyrics. And given the sheer ambition of this album, Nixon is a milestone in independent record making, music constructed on a grand scale that's richly satisfying without seeming overdone or tricked up simply for its own sake. And regardless of how one feels about Wagner's abilities as a singer, when he lets his heart do the talking on numbers like "The Distance from Her to There" and "The Book I Haven't Read," his sincerity is undeniable and affecting.
Calling Nixon Lambchop's masterpiece is to ignore the fine work they'd done before, and the similarly ambitious work that came afterward, but it is the point where they showed they were in full command of the tools and talents at their disposal, and its glorious eccentricities are as pleasurable as anything in their catalog.