Release Date: Nov 18, 2008
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Former Screaming Tree and Sebastian’s Belle encore—call them the “Butter Twins. ”Although he’s become a terrific solo artist, former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan still has a taste for collaboration. Whether as half of the Gutter Twins (with ex-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli), part of Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age, or as an occasional member of Dulli’s Twilight Singers, Lanegan has often done his most compelling work in partnership with others whose strengths offset the raw power of his nicotine-and-bourbon-stained rasp.
The second collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, 2008's Sunday at Devil Dirt, follows roughly the same template as the first, 2006's Ballad of the Broken Seas. The songs hit all the same signposts with stops at the lowdown country blues, and melancholy orchestral pop à la Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, restrained British folk, and dramatic Bad Seeds-lite balladry. Once again, Campbell reverses the traditional pop formula of a male Svengali, writing, producing, and molding his female talent by writing all the songs and doing all the production and arranging herself, leaving Lanegan in the diva role.
Sunday at Devil Dirt, the second outing for Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, offers more of the same smoldering, atmospheric sound they created on Ballad of the Broken Seas. Although the novelty of the guy from Screaming Trees playing Tom Waits with the lady from Belle and Sebastian has worn off, the strength of the duo’s sophomore set rests squarely in the strong songwriting of Campbell paired with Lanegan’s spare, moody vocals. What Sunday at Devil Dirt lacks in newness is more than equaled by the continued quality of the duo’s output.Sunday at Devil Dirt had a release in the United Kingdom last year, and the album continues in the same vein as the duo’s earlier collaboration.
If 2006's Mercury prize-nominated Ballad of the Broken Seas seethed with the excitement of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's new-found kinship, its follow-up basks in the glow of a solid union. Still obsessing over the dark side of love, it's the sound of an adolescent Marianne Faithfull spooning with an ageing Johnny Cash, the pared-down, dusty folk swooning with romantic strings and retro keyboards. Lanegan's growl is an earthy joy.
Mark Lanegan made a name for himself as the leader of Screaming Trees, one of the better grunge-era Seattle bands. After that, he built a substantial solo career around a sorrowful vision and a voice that sounds like it’s been weathered by a mixture of cigarettes, whiskey, and crypt dust. He’s also turned ears through his alliance with indie lothario Greg Dulli, as well as his stint with sludge-riffers Queens of the Stone Age.
At times the recordings that Isobel Campbell makes with Mark Lanegan sound like duets, but they're actually solo works written, arranged, mixed and produced by Campbell, on which Lanegan lends his weathered howl as a featured vocalist. On past ventures, the two have had very little chemistry and, sadly, no more appears to have developed while making Sunday At Devil Dirt. It's essentially a continuation of Ballad Of The Broken Seas, with Lanegan's world-weary baritone bellow completely overpowering Campbell's wispy waif-like purr and making her come off like a background singer on her own project.
This second collaboration between the baritone growl of Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan and the cotton-ball purr of former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell continues the mellow flow of 2006's Ballad of the Broken Seas. Here, Lanegan tries on his best Lee Hazlewood with varying degrees of moodiness, tailoring himself in Campbell's songwriting and arranging. Seems like a perfect union, but Sunday feels a little too bed-headed and uneven.