Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Sunday at Devil Dirt

RiYL: Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, Lady & Bird, a less eerie Tom Waits?

Sometimes, things just come together beautifully.

Such was the case with Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell in 2006 with “Ballad of the Broken Seas”. Taking the music world by surprise this little collaboration between the beautiful former “Belle & Sebastian” member and the broken-hearted former “the Screaming Trees” member, solo artist, and intermittent “QOTSA” collaborator Mark Lanegan created a piece that was magical and of the moment. A one time thing. But now they’re back and they’re after our ears. And our hearts.

“Sunday at Devil Dirt” reverberates with an intriguing, yet odd feel: repetition, variation, lush instrumentation, minimalism, beauty… It’s all there, as a whole. Nothing really sticks out as being too different, yet no amount of melodic or lyrical repetition seems to bother. While Lanegan sounds like he’s singing from the ashes that were once a voice, from the remnants of a once whole man, he comes across as a much softer, soothing Tom Waits trying his hardest to cradle the delicacy that is Isobel Campbell. Again, most of the tracks are composed by Ms. Campbell who mainly takes a back seat on vocals and delves into rich, eerie orchestration. Yet her voice, always audible, often slight; manages to walk an interesting line between seductive and soothing, barely ever above a whisper, smoothing out Lanegan’s rough edges.

The album is reminiscent of being trapped within the world of a Jim Jarmusch soundtrack, stripped down acoustic rock with a twang of blues; indecisive about whether it should continue on being mischievous or dabbling in sentimentality, and never ever clear in its intentions. It keeps the listener unconsciously guessing as to what will come next, but never detracting from the brilliance of its simple, heart-warming or shattering melodies:

Opener “Seafaring Song”, a sad shipwreck longing for home and the following “the Raven” reek of lonely wind-swept nights and booze, doused in violins, a broken guitar, and a beautiful, untouchable songstress. “Black Burner” invites you to walk alongside Mr. Depp in “Dead Man” out of place, curious, and slightly petrified; engrossed at the sight of a new world. “Come On Over (Turn Me On)” comes off as a disturbing take on Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” with a sultry, seductive Isobel Campbell, each violin making a tempting offer to get lost in this world of strings. But there is a whole other side to “Sunday at Devil Dirt” possessing a lighter, lovelier air. Slightly hopeful ballads, love songs if you will, perfect in tone, nostalgic and reminiscing on tracks like “Keep Me In Mind, Sweetheart” and “Something to Believe.”

All in all, “Sunday at Devil Dirt” may seem like an album of contradictions – the odd with the familiar, the gentle with the brute, an orchestra and a man…but it is a world of perfect harmony.

-Leyla Aksu

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt