Review : Isobel Campbell - Hawk
PitchforkThree albums in, the combination still feels unlikely: the once-chirpy Scottish twee star hooking up with the gravelly, drugged-out ex-grunge guy to make warm, languid movie-soundtrack Americana. Nothing in that last sentence seems like it should work. But former Belle and Sebastian singer/cellist Isobel Campbell and former Screaming Trees frontman Lanegan have the sort of chemistry that nobody can fully explain. Their voices hang suspended in the air together, Campbell's feathery light and Lanegan's thick and downtrodden.
The obvious point of comparison, and the one that critics have made over and over again with these two, is Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, and the parallels certainly work. Like Nancy and Lee, Campbell and Lanegan's world-weary sprite/cowboy act lends a nice angelic/demonic dichotomy to everything they do. Every time they sing together, the two sound like they've just gotten done with a particularly satisfying fuck. But on Hawk, they remind me just as much of Mazzy Star in the way they boil roots-rock down to narcotic shuffle and swoony desert atmosphere. And if they haven't quite come up with their own "Fade Into You" yet, give them time.
All sorts of quintessentially American genres go into the stew here: country, folk, blues, rockabilly, 50s torch-song elegance. "Come Undone", with its weepy drawn-out strings, is a pretty great stab at old-school Memphis soul. Scraggly-voiced singer-songwriter Willy Mason stands in for Lanegan on a spare, unrushed cover of Townes Van Zandt's "No Place to Fall". The acoustic-blues stomper "Snake Song" would make a way better theme to the ridiculously entertaining Elmore Leonard-derived TV show "Justified" than that Everlast-sounding piece of crap the show currently has. And all throughout, Campbell sings without a trace of her thick Scottish accent. It's tough to believe this is the same girl who sang "Is It Wicked Not to Care?"....full text
GuardianIsobel Campbell made a smart move when she engaged Mark Lanegan as her singing partner in 2004. But listening to Hawk, their third album together, the thought occurs that she might make an even smarter move, by hiring another female vocalist as his foil. The pleasure of Campbell flitting like a will-o'-the-wisp in the cracks between Lanegan's fierce, parched growls is predictable now. Hawk impresses instead with its signs of Campbell's increased confidence as songwriter, arranger and producer. That assurance is obvious in the rollicking blues of Get Behind Me, more subtle in Time of the Season, a Christmas song rippling with warm summer breezes. At the microphone, however, Campbell remains diffident, lacking the expressive character that might make lines like "you knew I'd been with dirty dogs" or "I'm in a spin, I've been to hell and back again" sound true. Without it, her songs are never as effective as they might be, for all Lanegan's vivid passion....full text
BbcThe most unlikely pairing in rock is now three albums old, and still itís surprising that Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have very much in common at all, let alone the ability to inhabit the same songs. Yet for all the eyebrows raised by a country-folk partnership between the fragrant, whisper-voiced founding member and cellist of Belle and Sebastian and the former Ďexhaustioní-prone ex-junkie singer with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, itís a union that just keeps on giving, with the steelier, more focussed Hawk the best theyíve given yet.
They may take co-billing, but the plaudits all belong to Campbell. As much as Laneganís gruff, Marlboros íní bourbon growl is a draw card, Campbell is writer, producer, arranger and constant counterpoint to Laneganís malevolence. Hawk cements her standing alongside maverick serial collaborators such as Kurt Wagner and Will Oldham.
Itís in the way she blends country, blues and deep soul into something entirely her own, like a latter-day Bobbie Gentry. Come Undone revisits the torn yet unconditional love of Bettye LaVetteís Let Me Down Easy and James Brownís Itís a Manís Manís Manís World; You Wonít Let Me Down Again (with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha on guitar) and Snake Song are black-hearted warnings to anyone who dares get too close; and Get Behind Me is a nail-hard bar-room stomp....full text
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