Former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan needs no introduction but Duke Garwood, his musical partner on Black Pudding, is less well known. The London-based avant-bluesman has released four excellent albums that owe as much to the textures of ambient music as they do to the blues, and along the way has amassed a diverse set of collaborators, from Archie Bronson Outfit to the Orb, Seasick Steve and the Moroccan folk group the Master Musicians of Joujouka.
Lanegan has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Greg Dulli and Isobel Campbell, so the two are kindred spirits in their enthusiasm for collaboration, and for subtly twisting the American roots tradition. Black Pudding was concocted when Garwood supported Lanegan on tour, and the latter has described their time in the studio as “one of the best experiences of my recording life.” The result is a warm, evocative and atmospheric album that combines parched American blues with more experimental sounds, nicely captured in the album’s book-ends: the finger-picked instrumentals “Manchester Special” and “Black Pudding.”
It’s an album that’s sparse in structure but immense in presence. “Pentecostal” conjures rich atmosphere with just guitar twangs, a shaker rhythm and Langean’s pitch-dark vocals painting vivid images: an albatross, a train, the eternal struggle between good and evil. Garwood’s solo work is marked out by a sense of space, which is also palpable here. “Mescalito,” with its arid drum-machine roll and bar-room backing vocal, would give a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack a run for its jukebox dollars and cents. “Last Rung” is full of knackered, jazzy piano, and the eerie “Sphinx” sees Lanegan’s heavily-treated voice wobble as if through a heat haze.
The finest tracks are the ones where the pair go the furthest into the sun-bleached yonder. “Thank You” is made of a swirling mellotron drone out of which piano notes and scrapes of violin emerge and disappear. “Cold Molly” is fractured and bold, creating a steely funk from clipped drums and brass skronk. Even in these jagged moments, though, there’s a sense of ease and confidence that shows their musical chemistry. Here’s hoping Lanegan and Garwood are just at the start of their journey along this road less traveled.