Returning for their second collaborative disc, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan lay down another solid release in the wake of their critically gobbled debut as a duo, 2006’s Ballad of the Broken Seas. Campbell’s sparse production, sing-song shanty song structures and their divergent vocal pairing once again provide fertile ground for the duo’s retro, gothic folk rock.
The central appeal here is the interplay between the two vocalists. Campbell’s whispy, trembling voice suspended above the boom and shudder of Lanegan’s late-era Leonard Cohen growl, instills the barebones songwriting with a very visceral cornerstone. The real thrill is Campbell’s eclectic ear and ace production skills, which allow the duo enough room to experiment within all sorts of genres and styles while retaining a strong, consistent central voice.
“The Raven” swaggers along in full-on Spaghetti Western mode, with whammy-bar guitars splintering off from a chilly central string melody. The feeling of wasted expanses and crisply frozen tundra pervades the entire album. The idea of exhumation and thaw repeats throughout like a distant hope of escape from the chill, mirrored in song titles like, “Back Burner,” “The Flame That Burns” and “Fight Fire With Fire.” But it’s the back-stoop, slide guitar shuffle and honky tonk piano fluttering on “Shotgun Blues” that eventually provide a true relief from the cold, with Campbell finding a novel blues style that sounds far removed from her Belle & Sebastian days. The charged and lethargic “Hang On” allows Campbell to bristle and float over a slender guitar line and sleepy tambourine, until her own layered vocals curl upward like cigarette smoke released from just-kissed lips into the dark sky and allow the band to slowly sputter out.
Favorite Track: “Hang On”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.