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Album Review : Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Hawk

  • Written by  Andrew Schagen

Isobel Campbell has released several solo records, both under her own name and as The Gentle Waves. Though they all have their charms, especially 2003’s superb Amorino, they all suffer from the same problem - though she’s clearly a talented songwriter and she is unarguably possessed of a beautiful voice, her vocals do lack the bite and the presence to really hold the listener’s attention for the length of a whole LP. Kristin Hersh she is not.


Which is why her first collaborative LP with Mark LaneganBallad of the Broken Seas, was such a triumph. Campbell took charge of the bulk of the songwriting and arranging, Lanegan brought his trademark gravel-throated vocal swagger and the end product was a Mercury-nominated minor classic. However, 2008’s follow up Sunday at Devil Dirt seemed to have a bad case of sequel-itis. Sticking rigidly to the same formula of Campbell’s soft high voice floating above Lanegan’s deep rough one whilst the Americana-tinged rock played subtly beneath them, it seemed like a less-inspired version of its predecessor.

Hawk, the latest offering from the pair, sticks for the most part to the formula of their previous collaborations, but some attempts are made to move things on a little. For example Lanegan isn’t the only male vocalist on show here; Willy Mason guests on a couple of tracks. Hawk also features a couple of Townes Van Zandt songs and a guest appearance from ex-Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist James Iha, not that either of these involves a marked difference from the overall sound of the album. The one song where expectations are confounded is ‘Hawk’ itself: a boogie-woogie instrumental that seems to have no real connection to the songs around it.

The highlight track is ‘Time of The Season’, not a copy of the classic Zombies song, but a well-crafted showcase for demonstrating once again how well these two voices can work together. What’s noticeable though is that although this is effectively an album of duets, they don’t experiment much with the potential of having two voices. Lanegan and Campbell don’t tend to create distinct characters for their voices or indulge in call-and-response as, for example, the Tindersticks used to do to such effect on duets like ‘Buried Bones’. What you get on almost all of this album is the pair singing pretty much the same melody throughout a song, albeit at several octaves apart.

This is without question a good album; with two such talented performers involved it would be odd if it wasn’t. But the surprise factor is gone: we learnt on Ballad of the Broken Seas how beautifully these two such different voices could work together and nothing on Hawk really signals much of an advance or progression from that record. It would be good to perhaps see Lanegan let off the leash a little more if they were to record together again; to bring a little more of the more powerful and vitriolic vocals that he leant to the Gutter Twins recently. As it is Hawk is the sound of the lion lying down with the lamb, but maybe the two of them have got a little too comfortable together.

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