Along with Goldie Lookin' Chain's Maggot...
Janne Oinonen

17:55 5th January 2006

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - 'Ballad of The Broken Seas'Initially, the pairing of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan doesn't seem like the most natural of matches. Both Campbell's output with Belle & Sebastian and Amorino, her first solo album after ditching the much-feted Scottish popsters, could be described as sweet and sunny, whilst her voice is nothing short of celestial in it's feather-weight otherworldliness. Lanegan, meanwhile...well, if an overflowing, industrial-sized ashtray could croon, it'd most likely do so in the guttural growl of the former Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age singer, and his stark solo produce is marked by an acute aversion to sunshine and summertime.

Thankfully, the contents of 'Ballad of the Broken Seas' quickly prove such reservations entirely groundless. Lanegan and Campbell's voices do mix, and on tracks like the dramatic standout 'False Husband' the enchanting contrast between her angelic cooing and his gravelly tones suggest a gruff undertaker serenading a particularly eerie ghost. As a result, this seamless duets project is effortlessly elevated to the lofty level of such classic male/female vocal duos as Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and, er, Sonny and Cher, a feat made even more remarkable by the fact that the vast majority of the performances were recorded separately by Campbell in Scotland and Lanegan is his LA lair.

Ranging from the 'Scarborough Fair'-referencing folky swirl of 'Black Mountain' and the fairground waltz '(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?' to the sun-bleached, faintly psychedelic pop of 'Honey Child What Can I Do?' and the piano-led lament of the title track, which resembles Nick Cave at his most languid, the mostly Campbell-penned material, pretty yet stark and simultaneously sweet and sinister, is easily up to the standards of such an inspired summit of vocal talent. It's a sparse, understated but still luxuriously detailed affair held aloft by acoustic guitars, cello and occasional strings (most stirringly present 'It's Hard to Kill A Bad Thing’, a breezy instrumental that could well be on the run from the grooves of Nick Drake's Bryter Layter), although a clattering, rattling percussion-driven take on Hank Williams's country standard 'Ramblin' Man' would fit on the more cacophonous end of a Tom Waits album, whilst Lanegan's ominous 'Revolver' is tailor-made for the soundtrack of a particularly gritty, shootout-infested western.     

In other words, it’s timeless, captivating stuff. The sparkling waters of these Broken Seas are well worth getting drenched in.