Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart EP Review (2008)

A review for The Music Magazine.

Musical collaboration can create the most interesting of partnerships. Who would have thought that Scottish singer Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian would end up making music with Mark Lanegan, the dysfunctional front man of 1980s post-grunge US rock band Screaming Trees. They have now released two albums together and 'Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart' is an extra EP taken from the 'Sunday At Devil Dirt' recording sessions. Now that Lanegan has got the latest bout of angst out of his system, with the semi-disastrous Greg Dulli project The Gutter Twins, it is now back to business as usual.

The title track, and only song to be taken from the album, is a short simple country blues ballad with Lanegan's baritone taking the lead. Campbell provides the softness for this gorgeous love song. 'Fight Fire With Fire' is much more complete, again with Lanegan in Tom Waits mode set to an upbeat rolling backdrop. The chorus is ludicrously jolly. Campbell again adds a delicate breeze, letting her voice wash through the song like Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star. A key line, and maybe an echo to Lanegan's current uneasy situation, is: "My mind's in the gutter; my heart's solid gold", followed by the more heartfelt, but clumsy, "When they made you, they busted the mould". The lyrical journey through the songs is a constant rocky road but always compelling.

'Asleep On A Sixpence' is an old-time piano melody coupled with more of Lanegan's rasping vocals. He is going solo this time. The strange outro appears to be a few bars of 'While Shepherd's Watched Their Flocks By Night'. The scratchy 'Violin Tango' provides a brief interlude before the true country duet of 'Rambling Rose' gets things back on course. This is like the antithesis of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant with both voices intertwined. Campbell's only solo effort 'Hang On' closes the EP and is hard to place - like Juliana Hatfield fronting Fountains Of Wayne. As pleasant as it is, the song becomes a relentless plod and could benefit from a stronger vocal.

This very unique pairing is a genuine combining of souls. Campbell is the calm for Lanegan's storm, keeping everything in balance; in spite of a dominating male presence, it is a near perfect equilibrium. The EP captures the dark focus of Lanegan's fantastic solo album 'Bubblegum' and echoes the more stripped down feel of 'Sunday At Devil Dirt'. This never feels like a side project, nor a sordid affair in a downbeat seedy motel, more a safe place to hide out when things get heavy. Both singers sound at home in each other's company. The ever wandering Mark Lanegan has his muse and may eventually rest his boots - but for now, Isobel Campbell is drawing the best out of him, whenever and wherever they meet.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

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