Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan- Hawk

Three albums in, this collaboration of Belle and Sebastian heavyweight Isobel Campbell and Screaming Trees ass kicker Mark Lanegan would seem to have run its course. After all, how many songs can you write with Campbell's beautiful and soft voice with Lanegan's whisky soaked mumbles? Apparently you can write many, and not only is this the third chapter, it's probably the best. It's a nice formula that reinvents itself here after "Sunday at Devil Dirt" left many people wondering if it had indeed been one too many.

Campbell is indie rock royalty and for the most part, the choices she makes in putting these songs together works. She's not just a great female vocalist, she's a great vocalist, and not only is she a great vocalist, she's a damn good musician who knows how to arrange these songs well. Lanegan on the other hand has spent much of the decade appearing with Queens of the Stone Age and Soulsavers using his gravely voice is a fine tuned insturment, and boy is it always powerful.

Opener "We Die and See Beauty Reign" is a classic example of the duo hard at work. Slow music with both voices lapping each other through a slow ballad is exactly why we loved the duo in the first place. It's depressing, dark, heartbreaking, but enjoyable. It's quickly followed by "You Won't Let Me Down Again" where Lanegan is heard loud and clear over a kick ass blues rocker, it's a song that was tailor made for him.

Standouts on this album include "Come Undone", backed by a 50's soul sound, the song is exactly the type of drown your sorrows song that would probably hit you hard in the gut with its poetic honesty and almost perfect timing on vocals by both Campbell and Lanegan. "Get Behind Me" is a jolt to the diner, dance off rocker filled with riffs and solos that were absent from the first two albums that rears its head here. It's probably the most fun song on the album and sees Lanegan almost by himself as Campbell's voice are almost gone from the mix.

The second half of the album is just as strong as the first. The title track has no vocals at all, instead it's a kick ass jam filled with sax and blistering guitar, it's the type of track that a higher end bar band would break into and it's probably the best song on the album. "Eyes of Green" is backed by flutes and accordian in a sort of celtic like tune. It's beautiful and enchanting and a perfect way to describe the bulk of the work done by the duo throughout their efforts.

"Lately" closes out the album with Lanegan being backed with bongos and a gospel choir. Americana in its own unique way and quite different from all the heavy norms most of us are used to hearing from Mark, it's pretty much the exact opposite from anything he's done with Queens or Screaming Trees, but serves as a reminder of how powerful his voice is because it works well with damn near anything.

It's safe to say we can go ahead and order another helping of this, because it's simply great music. It works and just when you think it isn't going to work anymore, we're all caught blind-sided by how fresh it sounds each time. And while I'm praying that Mark gets together with Queens again in the near future (look no further than his work on Rated R and Songs for the Deaf), his work with Campbell stands alone and is worthy of the input he's been on of the past two decade. As for Campbell, let's just say she's sorely missed in Belle and Sebastian, but has managed to pass her old band in making teriffic music.

**** out of *****

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