Isobel Campbell / Mark Lanegan

Sunday at Devil Dirt

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The second collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, 2008's Sunday at Devil Dirt, follows roughly the same template as the first, 2006's Ballad of the Broken Seas. The songs hit all the same signposts with stops at the lowdown country blues, and melancholy orchestral pop à la Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, restrained British folk, and dramatic Bad Seeds-lite balladry. Once again, Campbell reverses the traditional pop formula of a male Svengali, writing, producing, and molding his female talent by writing all the songs and doing all the production and arranging herself, leaving Lanegan in the diva role. In fact, Devil Dirt is almost a carbon copy of Broken Seas in every way (except for the decidedly cheap looking album art). This similarity could be problematic and make the album less impressive or desirable; fortunately, the formula is strong and worth revisiting. Campbell's arranging skills have grown some too, though they were already strong, and the production is clean and dramatic. In spots, it verges on too clean (a little more grit would have made some of the songs more powerful, a little less NPR, and a little more dangerous) but never to the point of dulling the songs impact. The real treat of the record is hearing Lanegan's gruff baritone mesh queasily with Campbell's paper-thin vocals, their duets on "Who Built the Road?" and "Keep Me in Mind, Sweetheart" to name two are quite entertaining and charming. Lanegan's solo spots are treated with his trademark broken down melancholy growl; he's remarkably steady and reliable throughout (this album and his career) and gives the album a rocksteady foundation of melancholy soul. Campbell's vocal feature is a bit of a wobbler, though, as hearing her purr her way through a 12-bar blues is territory better left to Holly Golightly, she just sounds kittenish instead of sultry here. It's really the only stumble on the album though and more proof that a Svengali is better off staying in the background, especially if the world of sound he creates is as captivating as what Campbell creates on Sunday at Devil Dirt.

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