Features | Awards

The Sky Blue Sky Award

By David Greenwald | 16 December 2008

OH (Ohio)
(Merge; 2008)

Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner’s enunciation rules oh-oh-hi-o, the richly rewarding follow-up to 2006’s slow-burning Damages. OH (Ohio) is a happy turnaround from its predecessor’s burnt-out sobriety, full of playful lyrics and cashmere-soft arrangements. Wagner sings of blackbirds and pirates, Martin Luther King Jr. and season tickets to the war for the human heart. There are plenty of Wagner’s personal American Life to wring from his wry poetry, but it’s the countrypolitan tapestry of the music—more lively and jazz-tinged than Damaged’s wounded walk—that carries the set. Like Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, it’s a collection of muted anthems for adulthood—from the simple affirmation of “I Believe In You,” one of the year’s finest songs, to the late-night angst of “A Hold Of You.” Many of the tracks first appeared in 2007 on a Wagner tour CD, and they’re affecting even without the arrangements to lighten his craggy croon. As a vocalist, Wagner will never be a Buckley, but he does his best with what he has—and in times like these, Kurt, I believe in you, too.