April 13, 2006

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, "Ballad of the Broken Seas"

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The slow, deliberate pacing of Ballad of the Broken Seas, the first duet album between Glaswegian Isobel Campbell, of Belle Sebastian fame, and Seattle-based Mark Lanegan, tries valiantly to capture folk’s low-key beauty. Lanegan’s previous formidable vocal presence with other groups is considerably toned down. Ballad presents Lanegan as a blatant pastiche of Leonard Cohen’s poetic narratives and Tom Waits’ guttural growl. Campbell’s angelic voice is reduced to a wispy timidity. Calexico/Tex-Mex mariachi guitars and Campbell’s sinister cello in “Revolver” are creepily effective but also indicative of the singers’ disconnect. Single “Ramblin’ Man,” a reworking of the Hank Williams honky-tonk classic, is a stomping, whip-laden hodgepodge of Wild West recklessness, Appalachia folk and Nick Cave’s macabre monotone. Although an intriguing study in cross-Atlantic sexual tension (“Saturday’s Gone” is kitschy fun), the monotonous balladry and pretentious posturing of Ballad ultimately fail to sustain genuine interest.

Archived article by Natasha Pickowicz