Lambchop’s Recent Departures Playlist

Kurt Wagner compiles a list of his favorite tracks from artists we’ve lost this year.

The latest project from Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop project sees the off-kilter country outfit covering six familiar tunes (one per band member) in unfamiliar ways—from their opening take on Wilco’s “Reservations” extended to an ambient thirteen minutes to a moody interpretation of Stevie Wonder. Like many other artists, rather than cranking out (completely) original music in 2020, the band instead opted for a work of homage with TRIP, the title referencing the bizarre journey the year has been.

While the artists covered on the record are mostly still living, Wagner wanted to shed additional light on some of his and his band’s musical idols we’ve lost in this seemingly endless year. “It’s been a trip, this year, in more ways than I need to remind everyone,” he notes. “But one thing we all can share and join together in is our appreciation for the many artists in our lives that have passed on recently. There are so many, and this is in no way a complete list, nor is it meant to be. The year isn’t over yet. I simply wanted to recognize some amazing, remarkable artists and their contributions to a “playlist” of sorts, selected by fate itself.”

Stream the playlist below, and read on for a few words from Wagner on each track. 

John Prine, “I Remember Everything” 

John Prine was everything to me. Through their elegant, deceptive simplicity his songs were some of the first that I learned to play. I still lean heavily on the lessons I learned from that. I’d see him around town ever since he moved to Nashville. His was one of the first concerts I attended back in 1973. It was a show he did with Rambling Jack Elliot in Aspen, Colorado. I was a lucky fly on the wall during one of his last sessions with the legendary Swamp Dogg. It was the first time I ever had a chance to even speak with him, and I promise you I didn’t say too much—I was too in awe. To see him work with Swamp on some of his songs was seeing a master in action. They would sit together and John would carefully help shape the way things would come together from notes Swamp made from decades ago. I will forever cherish those two days. I’m figuring this posthumous release was recorded not so long after that. Remarkable.

Justin Townes Earl, “Talking To Myself” 

So saddened was I about Justin’s passing, but knowing a little bit about this remarkable artist and how his flame burned hotter than most, and that sometimes pain gives way to actions that can’t be undone still chokes me up. Such is the nature of suffering, and given another day things can look much better and the demons recede. Justin just ran out of days. What he left behind is a remarkable body of work and craftsmanship. This song is but one example from what I think is his best record. Though to be fair they’re all great. 

David Olney, “Jerusalem Tomorrow”

January 2020 kicked off with the shocking news of Dave’s passing. On stage, mid-song, he just gracefully stopped playing and closed his eyes still holding his guitar. It was a troubadour’s exit. Much attention has been diverted since then in regards to others passing, but let me say that this man was nothing short of a giant in my world, right up there with Mr. Prine. His influence on me was profound in that through his writing and performing he gave me the inspiration to pursue a method of writing that was intelligent and thought-provoking. 

By example, this song is told through the perspective of the donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem. He was also solid as a rock as a guitarist and a really funny guy. I highly recommend a dive into his catalogue. He represents an “outsider” side of Nashville that crossed over into the mainstream through his songs while never compromising. I followed his every move. He came out of the same scene I did, playing often at Springwater Supper Club in Nashville. This is the same dive bar that Lambchop evolved from. And much like ourselves, we both would return to a place where no fucks were given and nobody had any problem letting you know if you sucked or soared.   

 Jerry Jeff Walker, “Stoney”

Jerry Jeff wrote some real classics and I was a huge fan of them as a young teenager. My friends and I embraced his willingness to include a point of view in country music that reached out to the counterculture, which we were a part of. “Stoney” was one of the songs that my friends and I were drawn to in part for the double meaning in its title. Also ’cause it’s so damn beautiful.

Billy Joe Shaver, “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)”

When I moved back to Nashville in the mid ’80s, Billy Joe would play at a little bar a block away. I remember there was such a universal excitement about the resurgence of “Shaver.” His shows at Douglas Corner were events unlike any of the shows there. Not a discouraging word could be heard which is rare in this town. This song slays all doubts.

Mac Davis, “Watching Scotty Grow”

When this came out I must confess my friends and I were a bit cynical about the song and its message, but in retrospect it was a testament to what else a great song can deliver and inspire. Mac Davis was such a solid writer, and with the passage of time we all can appreciate his amazingly deep body of work.

Little Richard, “In Times Like These”

What can be said about this man that hasn’t been said? I was moved so much about this particular selection from his gospel days. Somehow through the power of gospel out came one hell of an artist. “Mysterious ways” indeed.

Bill Withers, “Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?”

Not much I can say about Mr. Withers that you don’t already know. The song and the album it’s from is a cover to cover classic. This song glows. 

Bucky Pizzarelli, “All the Things You Are”

If I’m not mistaken, and I usually am, Bucky did a little time in Nashville. I mean, who hasn’t, really? I’ve selected this for the sheer grace and beauty of this composition. It made the task of compiling these songs so rewarding.

Kenny Rogers, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”

We once played a festival with Kenny in Ireland. The fellow who owned the land the festival took place on also had a golf course, and we were invited to play golf and perhaps maybe even join with Kenny on the links. Turns out Kenny’s manager was a dead ringer for Kenny himself. Why I’m not surprised by this I’ll never know. Needless to say it never happened. The manager showed up in Kenny’s stead, but then was called away to his actual job: Handling all things Kenny, like making sure the arena-sized video of Coolio which Kenny sang along to during “The Gambler” was functioning correctly. This song “Ruby” still rules though. I saw many a TV performance of it as a kid. I thought he was singing “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.”  Gun safety seems like as good a note to end this on as any.

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