J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Singled Out: Kurt Wagner - "Chelsea hotel #2"

Kurt Wagner
"Chelsea hotel #2"
(Kurt ; Self-released (?) ; 2007)

NB: Notes from Underground will be back next week, but I'm taking this opportunity to try out a new feature I will be slowly working into a somewhat regular slot during the week. Singled Out will focus on one song in particular that has been floating around my head of late. Hope you enjoy.


I ventured out to see the Freewheeling Yo La Tengo tour in Carborro at the Arts Center on Thursday. More about that some other time. Opening for them was the enigmatic and wonderful Kurt Wagner, the main force behind left-field alt-country band Lambchop. He laid out an amazing set of songs, playing solo on stage with just a guitar and a clothesline on which he hung his music sheets after he'd played each one.

On the self-released (or, as best I can ascertain, self-released) album, Kurt, that he was selling at the show, he repeats a similar performance. An album of stripped down recitations of new songs by Wagner, it's a low-key and gorgeous listen. Central to my reason for picking it up was Wagner's take on Leonard Cohen's legendary "Chelsea Hotel #2."

Wagner's reading, like everything on this record, is spartan beyond description. Fitting, compared to Cohen's style, though eschewing even the minor horn flourishes of the original. Wagner's typical ground of hovering between low-murmured talking and singing here leans more towards actual singing, but barely. It gives the song's closing line ("I don't really think of you that often"), already hard to believe due to the detailed nature of the story preceding it, an even more despairing sound. Within the character sketches and story-songs that inhabit his world, "Chelsea Hotel #2" was an obvious choice to cover for Wagner. While not the most dynamic performance ever, it certainly feels at home on this record and with Wagner.

On the other hand, Rufus Wainwright tackled the song for the I'm Your Man concert-film tribute. Check it out below, as well as the original (from Cohen's New Skin for the Old Ceremony), for comparison.

Judge For Yourself:

Kurt Wagner - "Chelsea hotel #2"

Rufus Wainwright - "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" (live)

Leonard Cohen - "Chelsea Hotel No. 2"


Download music by Lambchop at EMusic.

Purchase the I'm Your Man Soundtrack and New Skin for the Old Ceremony at Amazon.

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