FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Keep this in mind for your Christmas stockings …
When it was released earlier this year I resisted ‘Sunday At Devil Dirt’, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan’s well-received, rather tongue-in-cheek take on Americana, their second full-length collaboration. It seemed to me too studied, too contrived somehow, a feeling heightened by the fact that Lanegan is something of a hired gun these days – having also supplied vocals to the highly mediocre trip-hoppery of Soulsavers, among others – adding instant gravitas with his Bourban-and-cigarettes-chiselled baritone. Written by the waifish Scottish indie darling Campbell, I couldn’t help think of Lanegan as a kind of country-rock Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P), enlisted to add an air of debauchery to other people’s records. OK, so I was wrong! The whole enterprise might have appeared more cynical had Campbell been trying to deliver an imitation of dust-blown authenticity. However, this is more revisionist high-jinx than soul-searching alt-country: no naked emotional honesty here, but rather fully-costumed period theatre in the mould of Lee & Nancy or Johnny Cash. Like Micah P Hinson’s fine ‘… Red Empire Orchestra‘, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan’s output is stylised and cinematic, not as bleak or skeletal as some more orthodox Stateside folk and country.
If you were not persuaded by ‘Sunday at Devil Dirt’, the ‘Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart EP‘ may change your mind. Asides the gorgeous eponymous single taken from the album, the EP comprises five tracks “kept back” from the LP for release later in the year – and a timely little stocking filler it is too! I consider myself a Christmassy person, and it may be just me but I can’t help hearing in the tracks selected for this EP a kind of Yuletide warmth. ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ finds Lanegan Leonard Cohening-it-up over a woozy fireside waltz (hmm, is that possible?) that recalls Sheffield’s own retro crooner Richard Hawley. Rather drowse-inducing in its repetition, is swirls gently around in a one-two-many-mulled-wines-dozing-off-in-a-comfy-chair kind of way. ‘Asleep On A Sixpence’ is a cello and piano-led vagabond ballad that sounds like Tom Waits gatecrashing a Christmas carol concert, an effect evoked by the appropriation of ‘While Shepherd’s Watch Their Flocks’ as an outro. ‘Rambling Rose’ is admittedly not seasonal at all, unless you consider tumbleweeds and pedal steel guitar part of your regular yuletide get-up. But again Campbell puts just enough reverb into the mix to subtly subvert the country textures with an air of languid detachment. Finally, ‘Hang On’ is Lanegan-free dream pop featuring Isobel Cambell’s sweet, airy vocals over a delicate guitar refrain that recalls early Velvet Underground, but with Nico’s voice somehow digitally de-Germanified. A lovely EP – Merry Christmas!