Thursday, April 23, 2020

Mark Lanegan : " Straight Songs of Sorrow"

Going into this you have to  know this is not going to be the Screaming Trees. What you might expect is something more akin to Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen given the nature of his voice. I was not expecting something so electronic and experimental. The first song sounds like he recorded the vocals and then put the music haphazardly atop it. His vocals sound pretty optimistic and not at all sorrowful. If Jim Morrison had lived I could see him putting out something similar. He has a impressive array of musicians that guest on this album they are from every genre from metal to trip hop.  Mark Morton from Lamb of Gob provides the fingerpicked acoustic guitar on "Apples From a Tree" . This comes much closer to what my expectations were. Folk music that is country inflected, you are hear traces of the grunge roots without directly acknowledging them . Morton also adds guitar to "Whiskey For the Holy Ghost". You can hear how he influenced the National on "the Game of Love" a duet with his wife Shelley.

"Ketamine" takes folk and marries it with a narcotic throb, making it the best song so far. Lanegan's voice might not be as resonate as even his guest spots with Queens of the Stoneage, but his lower registers is hinted at more here. His song writing is what makes the other oddly upbeat sounds on "Bleed All Over". Jack Bates the song of Joy Division bassist Peter Hook, plays bass on drunken gospel musing of "Church Bells, Ghosts". Then things get weird again with " Internal Hourglass Discussion". The album begins to remind me of the last one by Iggy Pop. At 55 his voice has held up better than Pop's voice did not have much range to begin with. Then we are back to a more the  organic flavor on "Stockholm City Blues". The arrangement is layered but simple.  His voice does find his more classic sound on "Skeleton Key" . This song also have a drugged out drone to it that is counterbalanced by Lanegan's vocals. Adrian Utley from Portishead provides the atmosphere on " Daylight in the Nocturnal House". John Paul Jones shows up to play mellotron on "Ballad of a Dying Rover" .  This song is cool, it might not be the album's best, but you can hear traces of late period Zeppelin in it's mood.

I  think the parts that do not sit right with me are the places where his free form vocal lines clash with the music and sound improvised. The lyrics are more like poetry being recited than sitting neatly on melodies. He does deliver the melodies I want from him on some songs so it's a mixed bag in that regard. "Burying Ground" has more of a blues soaked Americana feel to it which I think works better with his rustic voice. Greg Dulli from the Afghan Wigs and Warren Ellis join Mark on "At Zero Below" .  This one comes across darker than most of the songs on this album so it works for me. The album closes with the bleakly soulful "Eden Lost and Found" . This might not find Lanegan aging as gracefully as he could, but it does serve as a powerful testament to the mark he continues to leave on music. It is powerful enough for me to give this album a 9.

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