Isobel Campbell / Mark Lanegan

Ballad of the Broken Seas

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It's tempting to say something facile like "beauty meets the beast" in writing about this collaboration between former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, best known for his work with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. After all, Campbell's voice is all sweet angelic whisper while Lanegan's whisky-and-nicotine rasp sounds like the product of ten thousand nights in a barroom, but somehow these sweet and sour elements come together with striking and impressive results on Ballad of the Broken Seas. It helps that musically these two are not far away from the same page; the ghostly blues-based structures of Lanegan's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and The Winding Sheet may be starker than Campbell's stuff with Belle & Sebastian or her solo set Amorino, but they both appear to revel in the sort of glorious sadness that draws beauty from melancholy, and they find a dark and lovely common ground on this set of songs. Campbell produced the album and wrote the bulk of the material (though Lanegan wrote one song, the moody and satisfying "Revolver"), and while it's no great surprise that she comes up with superb material for herself, she also knows what to make of Lanegan's expressive rasp ("The Circus Is Leaving Town" is as good a performance as he's ever recorded), and their numbers together (especially "The False Husband" and the cover of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man") recall what one hoped Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue's duets on Murder Ballads would sound like. Ballad of the Broken Seas is a superbly crafted bit of late-night introspection that brings out the best in both Lanegan and Campbell and adds new and unexpected facets to their impressive repertoires.

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