Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Hawk

Written by August 10th, 2010 at 7:00 am

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Hawk
Vanguard
Rating: ★★★★☆

Now on their third full length collaborative effort, the once edgy combination of ex-Belle & Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell and Screaming Trees’ belter Mark Lanegan is beginning to feel as relaxed as a long time marriage. Those familiar with the duo’s previous collections of dark, sultry, occasionally ominous Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra styled folk/dust bowl ballad vocalizing won’t find much new or different here. Still, the now mature musical relationship pays dividends as the baritone crooning of Lanegan and Campbell’s breathy, Nico-inflected singing continue to deliver an atmospheric payoff.

As usual, Campbell writes and co-writes the majority of the material, but this time a pair of Townes Van Zandt tunes (“Snake Song” and the deeply moving “No Place to Fall”) provide a fitting glove for the downbeat but oddly uplifting vibe that burrows through these predominantly acoustic dozen tracks.

Highlights include the bluesy “Come Undone” that glistens with a faint’ 50s slow dance pulse, enhanced by subtle strings that make the song feel like a heated feature length dream, all in just under six minutes.

As if to acknowledge the potential of falling into this spell for an extended time, a few dusky punkabilly ravers such as the wild, instrumental, honking sax-fueled title track disrupt the groove. Willy Mason subs for Lanegan on two tunes, altering the sound slightly, although the approach remains similar.

Campbell’s few solo turns without a male duet partner are less successful since her wispy voice tends to float into the ether. But when the disc closes with the brooding, Bob Dylan-inspired gospel of “Lately,” led by Lanegan’s dusky rasp, the album’s diverse influences combine with a religious/sexual fervor that’s both hypnotic and bracing in its intensity.

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