Silky Smooth, Gristly Ragged
Is there really a perfect woman for every man? A jelly for every peanut butter? Or perhaps even a patch of earth for every seedling? Incongruous individuals can sometimes make for superb bedfellows, which perfectly describes Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s collaborative album Ballad of the Broken Seas. A joint effort so strong, believing in unlikely unities becomes far more plausible.Former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell drives this project crafting and performing the vast majority of the music as her soft whisper-like voice and Lanegan’s gruff, weathered growl dance around each other. Mark himself a veteran of solo work and previous enrollments in the Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age starts the album out with a steady sing-speak on “Deus Ibi Est” showcasing the lower end of his rich baritone register accompanied by a folksy acoustic stomp. On the captivating number “The False Husband,” Campbell uses her playfully breathy tone to dart melodically in and out of Lanegan’s solemn “Where have you been my darlin’? / Where have you been my friend?” like a robin peaking out from it’s nest at sporadic intervals. Songs such as the somber “Revolver” and the cheerful “Honey Child What Can I Do?” find either Lanegan or Campbell following the other’s lead, adding brief bits of harmony to provide counterpoint.
Many will speculate as to the full nature of the relationship between them (see Isobel’s addition of “gettin’ naked daddy just for you” to their cover of the classic Hank Williams tune “Ramblin’ Man”), but Lanegan’s masculine vocal timbre simply affords itself well to a solid female collaborator. He had similar effortless chemistry with PJ Harvey on recent full-length Bubblegum. That’s why Ballad need not have a premeditated purpose. All it needs is a willful listener, eager for adventuresome musical interplay.