"Trouble" by Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
The latest collaboration from Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan—late of Belle And Sebastian and Screaming Trees, respectively—offers a combination that's instantly striking, though not exactly new: the gnarled male vocal and its glassy female foil. Perhaps familiarity makes that blend so resonant (the opener's title, "Seafaring Song," nods to tradition), or maybe it's just an aural parlor trick, but accompanied by lonesome plucked guitar, a smattering of strings, and upright bass as it is here, the mix is undeniable. The question: Can these two sustain interest over an entire album (their second together), or, like so many of their predecessors' contributions, will Sunday At Devil Dirt become mere ambience for the two things most commonly done in bed? As the second song, "The Raven," comes in, featuring Lanegan atop Campbell's wordless backdrop, it's clear that their chemistry not only extends beyond the niceties of their voices intertwining, but overcomes the potential for novelty inherent in their initial collaboration, 2006's Ballad Of The Broken Seas.
When Lanegan leads, the combo truly sings, his voice sounding inconceivably wizened against a backdrop of ghostly coos and sighs from his partner, and instrumentation that goes one of two ways: spare bluesiness, as on "Salvation," and bare-but-lush balladry, found on "Who Built The Road." But Campbell's attentiveness to mood (and the force of her counterpart's pipes) ultimately diminishes her spotlight; when she takes the reins for "Shotgun Blues," her voice is thin, atmospheric wallpaper. Always a gentleman, Lanegan does the heavy lifting—providing equal parts Tom Waits pulp creepiness, Willie Nelson-like hard-earned truth, and Lee Hazlewood come-on, allowing conductor-songwriter Campbell to nuance each song just enough to avoid stagnation. And, for now, the bedroom.