Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Hawk

Dorian Lynskey

By Dorian Lynskey

on 05.18.11 in Reviews


Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

The cover of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's third album together (after 2006's Mercury-nominated Ballad of the Broken Seas and 2008's Sunday at Devil Dirt) shows the pair in the front of a car, seemingly on a cross-country drive. It's an apt choice, because the album, their best yet, traces a musical road trip across America. Only the Celtic fiddles of "Eyes of Green" might suggest that Campbell hails from Glasgow rather than Galveston. "We Die and See Beauty Reign" is Nancy and Lee by way of Bonnie and Clyde ("Our banks foreclose, our fortunes fade/ Our alibis are retrograde"), "Come Undone" is an unapologetic homage to James Brown's "It's a Man's World," "To Hell and Back Again" has the nocturnal desert ambience of Mazzy Star, and there are two cover versions of the quintessential Nashville casualty, Townes van Zandt. Apart from the slightly ill-fitting blues-rockers "Get Behind Me" and "Hawk," every one of Campbell's compositions has the glow of classic Americana.

Tracing a musical road trip across America with Campbell at the wheel

Lanegan has the presence of a Cormac McCarthy character and a voice as deep and dark as a collapsed mine shaft, which leads many collaborators (Soulsavers, UNKLE) to lean on him for eerie gravitas, but Campbell teases out some of his warmth, humor and sensuality: Their harmonizing on the yuletide-themed highlight "Time of the Season" is effortlessly erotic. As the album's songwriter, producer and arranger, Campbell is smart enough not to overuse him, dropping in two solo songs, two instrumentals and two appearances by Willy Mason (soft and weary on "Cool Water" and Van Zandt's "No Place to Fall"). When she does turn the spotlight on Lanegan, on the gospel-colored finale "Lately," she takes him somewhere new. Another telling detail about that cover image: It's Campbell who's behind the wheel.