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Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas

Isobel Campbell, Ballad of the Broken Seas

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SCOTTISH chanteuse Isobel Campbell, formerly of Belle & Sebastian, spent the best part of 2005 putting together Ballad Of The Broken Seas, a collaborative effort she recorded with former Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age contributor, Mark Lanegan.

The result is an extremely note-worthy effort that thrives because of the diverse vocal styles it employs, both in the new songs that Campbell has penned and during their alternative versions of a couple of classics.

For those not familiar with Lanegan’s work, his voice is extremely rough, providing a stark contrast to Campbell’s sweet, angelic style. Put together within the context of country and blues tracks likeRamblin’ Man and St James Infirmary, they provide quite an intriguing style.

Ramblin’ Man, especially, offers a strong indication of what to expect, being described as ‘a quite nasty’ cover of Hank Williams’ original that would fit quite well on the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Offers Campbell: “I was going for an old-school kind of approach. I’d been listening a lot to the ‘American Recordings’ by Johnny Cash and I’m a huge, huge fan of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. It’s kind of sun-bleached and psychedelic, with a little bit of folk or country.”

It’s one of several highlights. Album opener Deus Ibi Est gets off to a particularly gravel-throated start, before dropping in the blissful vocals of Campbell during the seductive chorus.

While another strong contender for best track on the album is Black Mountain, a haunting ballad built around a strong acoustic guitar riff and some heady stabs of violin. The chorus is very addictive.

There are times when the album assumes a cinematic sweep, as in the brooding, slow-builder that is The False Husband, a genuinely atmospheric potboiler that brings out the best in the different vocal styles, or the breezy Saturday’s Gone, which employs a rambling, cowboy style.

While instrumental track, It’s Hard To Kill A Bad Thing offers a nice respite and some pleasing melodies and strings.

Towards the end of the album, the uplifting Honey Child What Can I Do? employs both set of vocals together, which works very effectively (especially when dropping in lyrics as playful as ‘chasing butterflies like you’), and The Circus Is Leaving Town draws things to a melancholy close, allowing Lanegan to take centre-stage (and immediately recalling memories of latter-day Johnny Cash).

Given its roots in country-folk, it’s safe to say that Ballad of the Broken Seas won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for those who have followed Campbell’s career, or who liked the sound of the single Ramblin’ Man, this is well worth casting out a few pounds for.

Track listing:
1. Deus Ibi Est
2. Black Mountain
3. The False Husband
4. Ballad Of The Broken Seas
5. Revolver
6. Ramblin’ Man
7. (Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?
8. Saturday’s Gone
9. It’s Hard To Kill A Bad Thing
10. Honey Child What Can I Do?
11. Dusty Wreath
12. The Circus Is Leaving Town