In 2002, Mark Lanegan was looking to make some changes in how he approached his music -- the Screaming Trees had finally collapsed at the end of the '90s, he'd found a new fan base as a frequent guest vocalist with Queens of the Stone Age, and the spare, blues-leaning solo efforts Lanegan cut for Sub Pop were no longer side projects but the first chapters of a new career. As Lanegan was strategizing his next move, he went to Houston, Texas and in five days recorded a dozen songs with a handful of talented local musicians, including guitarist Ian Moore and longtime Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael on harmonica, with Justice Records founder Randall Jamail as producer. While the sessions were meant to be demos for a stack of songs Lanegan had written for Jamail's publishing house, the finished product sounded good enough to be an album, and in 2015 Lanegan finally released the material under the title Houston: Publishing Demos 2002. The jolly irony is that while these are supposed to be demos, in many respects the performances sound more polished and "commercial" than most of Lanegan's early solo efforts, capturing a laid-back but buoyant mood that's informed by country and blues as much as rock, and Lanegan seems comfortable singing with the group, rather than simply laying his vocals over the top. The arrangements are full-bodied but leave plenty of open space, which suits the dusty overtones of Lanegan's melodies, and this music is a fine match for the phantoms and lost souls who populate Lanegan's songs (ten of which get their first public hearing on this release). Houston: Publishing Demos 2002 is by no means a lost masterpiece, but in many ways this is more satisfying and a better platform for Lanegan's talents than Bubblegum, which was his next solo effort, released in 2004.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming