An Evening with Mr. M and The Great Lambchop

The following is a review of Lambchop’s latest album, Mr. M. This article treats the album as if it were a person. The narrative draws inspiration from the experience the writer had while listening to the album.

The strings swelled as he sat at the piano with his back to an audience that was chatting quietly around candlelit tables. He readjusted his top hat, stroked his moustache, and then rested his fingers on the keys. I was expecting Sinatra when he started playing, but he lazily exuded, “Don’t know what the fuck they talk about…” It seemed as if his voice were foamier than the overly frothy beer that was leaving circles on the top of the old wooden piano. Still, there was something sweet about his gentle vulgarity. His soothing nonsensical words spoke about his coughing grandfather and coffee makers and whether or not he should talk about seagulls. Then he cued an imaginary flute section that only he could groove along to, because only he could hear it.

Lambchop had been making music for about two decades at that point and had eleven albums stored in his little merch suitcase. He also had a series of black and white portraits for sale, such as the one on the cover of his most recent record. He explained to me that he had been a painter first and had just gotten back into it. The act had been billed that night as “country music.” I think his earlier records might’ve had some sort of sound to fit that description, but that night I didn’t hear it. Something about that lightly jazzy first tune he played, “If Not I’ll Just Die,” that I couldn’t stop listening too. Over time, I found out that most of his other material had very different arrangements (he even played a sitar at one point), but that first tune was a hell of a song.

Download: “If Not I’ll Just Die”

I was never really sure if Lambchop was just coming off of a bad breakup when I met him. It could’ve also been that he had just lost someone close to him. His record was dedicated to a musician friend of his, Vic Chesnutt. He never really talked about things like that. He used to send me messages like “2B2.” I was never sure if he was trying to make a warped Hamlet reference or if it was some kind of Internet-age pun or maybe a cry for attention because he was lonely. He would call me late at night when he was cooking because he was stoned and couldn’t sleep. He’d say things like, “It was good to talk to you while we’re cooking. Sounds like we’re making the same thing. One man cooks with powder, the other cooks with stones.” Lambchop said a lot of random senseless things, but they always seemed to have a hidden meaning behind them. It never really mattered though and I never asked questions.

When he wasn’t pretending to be Sinatra and having dinner parties, he seemed almost like a bearded mountain man with an acoustic guitar and a warbling voice. He traveled quite a bit and we had a lot of adventures in the beauteous wilderness, Lambchop frequently taking smart phone photos. He could start campfires almost as if they started by themselves and he taught me how to catch a fish with my bare hands. He had a lot of grizzly catch phrases and grandfatherly wisdom such as “The good life is wasted on me” or “It’s not about what you make, but what you earn.” One of my favorites was “Nice without mercy,” but the greatest lament I ever heard from him was, “The sky, it opens up like candy, and the wind, it still don’t know my name.”

Download: “Gone Tomorrow”

There was this plumber friend of his that he had known for a while. Lambchop described the portly fellow as having eyes like “buttons.” Lambchop knew the plumber’s ex-girlfriend. Apparently the plumber had gotten a DUI not too long ago and he even gave his own lady a few black eyes. Lambchop used to talk about the woman and wonder out loud if the she ever thought about her ex, the plumber. I think everyone sort of knew that Lambchop was really talking about himself. He said he and the plumber were both pricks back then.

Most of the conversations with Lambchop were about mundane, everyday things. Although when we talked about the baseball mascot Mr. Met, he always got a little oddly philosophical. His brief sentences went something like, “Fear makes us critical. Knowledge is difficult,” and, “Loss made us idiots.” I always thought that last one was the most appropriate for how I had come to know him.

The mascot was an important topic for him, but it never made sense why. It seemed like there really was a romantic story in there somewhere, but he never told it to me.

In the end, I think that his rambling words were just distractions–probably less so for people who were listening and more like distractions for himself. I’m sure he really did want to find love, and by the end I think he did.

–Lee Stepien