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For some perplexing reason, it's possible to read all of Lambchop's press and walk away with the impression that they're a country band. Perhaps the fact that Lambchop calls Nashville home speaks louder than words or music.

The thing is, Lambchop are one of the most charming and accomplished chamber-pop outfits you'll ever hear, appearing at a point midway between Goldsboro and O'Rourke on the Big Imaginary Graph of Orchestral Pop Music. The 13-piece ensemble has crafted ten tunes of exquisite and luxuriant beauty. A song like "Up with People," which boasts a full gospel chorus, isn't something you simply listen to; it enters your home, flops down on your couch, takes off its coat and boots, lights up a cigarette and hangs out for a few hours, bereft of any pressing engagements. Horns flare, strings gently lull and guitars add glittering melodic detail, while vocalist Kurt Wagner slithers his understated baritone into your ears like an eager-yet-patient tongue.

Wagner also likes to sing in a dubious falsetto -- see "What Else Could it Be?" -- that takes a bit of getting used to. While it's less obtrusive than you'd expect, particularly if you're listening on a system with strong bass response, the initial effect can be jarring. If you prefer your pop without eccentricity, this could be a deal-breaker, though it's more likely that the music will compensate.

If you're finding Nixon just a bit too somnolent, don't give up until you've skipped ahead to "The Butcher Boy," which proves that Lambchop can rock with fiendish menace when required.

Expansively orchestrated, Nixon ultimately comes off as beautiful but slightly disturbing, just like its cover art. The price of pleasurable listening may be a few bad dreams.

-- George Zahora

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