In 2006 the first collaborative album from Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was released and received mostly positive reviews. I felt it was a mix-bag of treasures and trolls. “Do You Wanna Come Walk With Me” and “Deus Ibi Est” are the standouts in my mind. But for every really good song on the album there’s one that misses the mark.
In 2008 they put out a follow-up called Sunday At Devil Dirt. Reviews were not as nice for the second try, and nothing on the album grabbed me the way the good tracks on Ballad did.
There’s probably a reason they say the third time’s a charm. I don’t know what that reason is, but it holds true for this duo. Hawk is an album that gathers all the good from the first two records and ditches all the bad. Campbell and Lanegan seem to have figured out the perfect dynamic in which to work, and crush it for 14 tracks.
They mainly stick to the same pattern. Lots of folky Americana that’s reminiscent of a lot of older boy/girl duos. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood get the most comparisons to this duo, and I guess that’s fair. Campbell has a breathy sweet voice that fit well for her days with Belle & Sebastian, but comes up slightly short on power. Lanegan steps up and nails that end of things just fine. A former Screaming Trees member and sometimes singer for Queens of the Stone Age, his voice sounds like he’s been nourished on nothing but cigarettes and bourbon since birth. It’s the perfect contrast to Campbell, and it creates an atmosphere that allows the record to exist in no certain time or place.
The album includes two Townes Van Zandt covers, “Snake Song” and “No Place to Fall.” Van Zandt was a great songwriter, so you know the lyrics are good, and “No Place to Fall” includes guest vocalist Willy Mason providing a sweetness that Lanegan sometimes fails to convey with his deep baritone.
My favorite track on the record, “Come Undone,” is a little bluesier than anything they’ve done on the past two records. It sounds a bit like the song “I’m Feeling Good” as performed by Micheal Buble. If you need a more indie comparison, check out “Midnight” by The Watson Twins. The whole song is done with a couplet rhyme scheme, which I think is underused in pop music nowadays.
I stumble and I fall, your time is on my side
Don’t make sense of it all, despite my foolish pride
It’s got me on my knees, tearin’ up my heart
I’m shakin’ at my bones, tearin’ me apart
When I can’t get close to you
I come undone, I come undone
Come undone, babe, I come undone
Lanegan hits every right note on this song. His rough-like-sandpaper voice perfectly captures the feelings of longing and Campbell’s throaty purr provides an extra layer of depth that’s not quite needed to make the song work, but makes it all the better.
Other highlights on the album include “Cool Water,” which also features Willy Mason as guest vocalist and “Get Behind Me,” a rockabilly jam that feels a bit out of place on the record, but is a welcome change of pace.
A lot of these boy/girl duos have put out albums recently. Jenny and Johnny, She and Him, Matt and Kim and The Swell Season all have had releases in the past year. And I think Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell blow each of them out of the water. I don’t know what they did differently on this third album, but I hope they keep it up.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Hawk when you get a chance. It’s honestly one of the best releases of the year, regardless of genre. It contains no less than five great songs, and of the other nine, not a single one is bad. If bands put out more quality records like this one, maybe some of us would start to feel bad about downloading music for free.
- Isobel Campbell hails from Glasgow, Scotland. Mark Lanegan hails from Ellensburg, Washington.
- Hawk is available on iTunes for $9.99. You can also freely stream it on Facebook.
- The two will perform at Lincoln Hall on Friday. Tickets are $17.
“You Won’t Let Me Down Again” official music video