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CD Review: Isobel Cambell & Mark Lanegan – Ramblin’ Man

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Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) have released an EP, Ramblin’ Man, in advance of a full-length collaboration due in January 2006. Two of the four songs from Ramblin’ Man will also appear on Ballad of the Broken Seas. The best album of 2006 might be delivered quite early in the calendar year if these four tracks are any indication.

The title track, “Ramblin’ Man” is the first song on the EP. It is a cover of a Hank Williams song. Isobel Campbell said it is “quite nasty” and that it could work well in a Quentin Tarantino movie. She is right. The reference to a Tarantino film is one I made when I reviewed Lanegan’s solo album of covers, the brilliant 1999 release I’ll Take Care of You. “Ramblin’ Man” would have been right at home on that album.

Their arrangement of “Ramblin’ Man” pits his voice against hers. Campbell’s hushed vocals act almost like an effect or another instrument in the mix. Instead of a piano or another guitar line, Campbell sings a counter melody to Lanegan’s lead. It is not easy to decipher what she is singing as her voice is mixed to the back but it adds sultriness to the song. Rustic drum sounds, Western-sounding electric guitar lead, a whistle, and rhythmic whip crack provide terrific accents.

The star of this track is Lanegan’s voice. There might not be a voice still alive better suited for this song than his (Johnny Cash, and of course Williams his ownself would have been up to the task). There is nothing mannered or fussy about the way he approaches the song. His voice exists for songs like this and songs like this exist for his voice.

The second track on the single is also slated to be part of Ballad. “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?” is a gentle, acoustic duet between Lanegan and Campbell. The vocal arrangement is more traditional as they sing together rather than against one another. Either Isobel Campbell has a dirty mind or I do for misinterpreting an occasional phrase. “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?” is either a gentle, platonic love ballad or it is an invitation to something more unseemly. I will leave that to your imagination.

“Revolver, Pt. 2″ is written by Lanegan yet he does not sing on the song. The ‘Pt. 2′ suggests this might have some relation to the song “Revolver” (which will be on Ballad when it is released). Campbell’s sweet voice floats above an ethereal, echo-drenched electric guitar. “Revolver, Pt. 2″ is another in the canon of great two minute Lanegan songs (“Revolver, Pt. 2″ is actually less than two minutes).

This track like its predecessor is brief, lasting barely more than two minutes with acoustic guitar and strings providing the musical backdrop for Campbell’s voice (Lanegan is again absent). Where “Revolver, Pt 2″ had an airy, less substantive vocal sound and there was less to the music it seems to be the more completed musical idea of the final two tracks.


V2, Campbell’s label, is making available for free download another track from the upcoming Ballad of the Broken Seas, “Dues Ibi Est” The download is available in MP3, WMA, and AAC formats.

As best I can tell, the title is Latin. I do not know what it means. Lanegan’s vocal has more growl than anything released on Ramblin’ Man. A repetitive tapping keeps time for the acoustic guitar rhythm. Campbell’s voice provides the only sweetness in a song comprised of a growling, near-monotone Lanegan and an acoustic guitar driven by a repetitive, single-beat rhythm.

The Tracklisting for Ramblin’ Man

  1. Ramblin’ Man
  2. (Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?
  3. Revolver, Pt. 2
  4. St. James Infirmary

The tracklisting for Ballad of the Broken Seas:

  1. Deus Ibi Est
  2. Black Mountain
  3. The False Husband
  4. Ballad Of The Broken Seas
  5. Revolver
  6. Ramblin’ Man
  7. (Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?
  8. Saturday’s Gone
  9. It’s Hard To Kill A Bad Thing
  10. Honey Child What Can I Do?
  11. Dusty Wreath
  12. The Circus Is Leaving Town

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://jonathan-d.blogspot.com Jonathan

    I’ve never been overly keen on any of Lanegan’s stuff outside of QOTSA (boringly enough), but from that review it sounds like his new album might be worth checking out.

  • http://www.genericmugwump.blogspot.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Excellent review man. I like the talk of the juxtaposition of the two vocals, the layering of vocals can have such a deepening and ameliorating effect on the music in general.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Thank you, Sir Fleming. I agree with you on some of the creative ways vocals can be used. Thom Yorke and Radiohead have done some of the most exciting things with his voice, treating it as another instrument to be used to create rather than thinking of him as a ‘lead singer.’

    In addition to the creative arrangement on “Ramblin’ Man” these are just two really different voices and even when they sing in harmony you get a rich sound. I really like this EP and can’t wait for the full length.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Jonathan, thanks for checking out the review. I appreciate the comments. If you couldn’t tell, you are talking to one of the most devoted Mark Lanegan fans on planet earth. I have loved his solo records as well as the latter-day Screaming Trees disc. I have found his QOTSA collaborations to be a bit… uneven. Some of it I have really liked and others not so much.

    That said, this EP is only $5 so I would suggest giving it a shot and seeing what you think.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    Nice review, DJ. I haven’t given much thought to Lanegan since the old grunge/screaming trees days. This definitely makes me want to take another look.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Brewster, thanks for checking out the review.

    I like Screaming Trees. A lot. But I have been a much bigger fan of his solo records. The are incredible and rank as some of my favorites ever.

    This EP was pretty cool. I would definitely recommend checking it out as well as some of the Lanegan solo records.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Almost a week later and this one still hasn’t left my CD player.