Isobel Campbell, who left Belle & Sebastian nearly a decade, is from Scotland but has made, perhaps, my favorite Americana record of the year. On Hawk, she has teamed with former Screaming Trees/Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan for an excellent collection of stark and sad -- but often pretty -- country-blues-folk tunes.
The record cover you see to the right gives you a sense of the record's tone: restlessness, rootlessness, wariness, weariness. So, to me, it makes sense that some of this album reportedly was recorded in Arizona. And a verse in the sparse "No Place to Fall" sums it up pretty well, as Campbell and Lanegan sing, "I'm not much of a lover, it's true / I'm here and I'm gone and I'm forever blue / But I'm sure wantin' you."
Campbell and Lanegan remind me of some of my favorite male-female musical partnerships: John Doe and Exene for the sense of desperation, Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra for the seemingly incompatible vocal tones that actually work out just right, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips for hushed, after-dark sensibilites at work on Hawk.
Campbell's voice is little more than a coo, a cross between Phillips and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. Next to Lanegan's often gruff voice, Campbell sounds even more fragile, and it works to great effect, especially on songs like "Time of the Season," in which she sings, "Like a child, I gave my heart / Now why'd you have to break it?" The song could've fit in nicely in country music's early '70s landscape or Lee Hazlewood's catalog.
It's not all downcast melancholia, though. The title track, which comes halfway through the record is a twisted "Green Onions"-meets-"L.A. Blues" instrumental. And "Get Behind Me," where Lanegan takes the vocal spotlight, is a blues-y roots rocker. For you Townes Van Zandt fans, to songs, "Snake Eyes" and the aforementioned "No Place to Fall," are written by the influential late Texas songwriter.
I hope Campbell, who reportedly is the brains behind the project, and Lanegan, who is well known for his numerous collaborations, continue with this project. It's an unlikely pairing of talents, but maybe the two artists' apparent differences are what make it so good.
Best song: Tough to choose one, but the one above, "You Let Me Down Again," is as good as any.
Deja vu: Driving through the desert after dark.
I'd rather listen to: Johnny and June Cash's "Jackson"
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment