Album: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Hawk (V2)

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The Independent Culture

Though nominally a Campbell & Lanegan duo album, Hawk is more akin to an Isobel Campbell solo album: she writes the songs, and drives the arrangements, and Mark Lanegan's involvement is more peripheral, with several tracks showcasing Campbell alone, a couple more featuring new duet partner Willy Mason, and one out-of-character instrumental.

It's also the best work she's been involved with, since her early days in Belle & Sebastian, a varied collection which demonstrates the range of her musical vocabulary. It's not just another bunch of would-be Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra ballads.

For all that, the standout track here is one on which both their voices are involved, melding smoothly for "Come Undone", whose plonking piano triplets and string arrangement strongly recall James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World". Their intimate shared murmurs are less impassioned than Brown's, it goes without saying, but the reflective mood is identical, while the Calexico-like cadences of the strings hint at the Arizona location which furnished one of Campbell's home bases during the project. It's a marvellous piece of work, as is their "Time Of The Season", another murmurous duet on which the estranged Christmas lamentation is delivered over a bed of gently fingerpicked guitar, while a yearning yawn of strings adds complementary accents in the manner of a Glen Campbell or Gordon Lightfoot song of loss. Their third great alliance here is "Eyes Of Green", whose authentic, traditional manner is cemented by the lovely little Appalachian fiddle vamp which runs through it.

Alongside these soul, pop and folk highlights, the album spins off in unexpected directions, with "Get Behind Me" a rawdy garage-rock number in Blues Explosion style, with Lanegan's predatory vocal creeping over a strident clangour of distorted guitar riffs; and the title-track an even more surprising foray into similar territory, with squealing saxophone taking the place of vocals over a loping boogie squall. Campbell's solo pieces, such as "Sunrise" and particularly "To Hell And Back Again", employ her voice in breathy, Mazzy Star-ish manner, while Lanegan's best solo effort is the rolling folk-rock piece "You Won't Let Me Down Again", for which Campbell has provided him with bespoke images such as "A crack in the mirror tells of seven years of pain/And you won't let me down again".

Bizarrely, Campbell had never heard Willy Mason until her engineer got him to sing a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "No Place To Fall", to which she applied the harmonies that lend polish to his vocal. Though recorded separately, it's as if they've been singing together for years, like some late-Sixties' folk group clambering over the debris of Van Zandt's melancholy: "I'm not much of a lover, it's true/I'm here, and I'm gone, and I'm forever blue". It's yet another standout on an album which skips so easily and reliably between disparate modes, before concluding in suitably soulful terrain amongst the gospelly backing vocals of "Lately".

DOWNLOAD THIS Come Undone; Time Of The Season; Eyes Of Green; Get Behind Me; No Place To Fall

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