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Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas

It's an unlikely association pitching the erstwhile wispy vocalist of Belle and Sebastian with Mark Lanegan of hard rock group Queens of the Stone Age, and formerly of Screaming Trees. They've met once before on Isobel's Time Is Just The Same EP where Lanegan was sought out after Eugene Kelly's vocal range couldn't reach those low notes. Campbell assumes the svenglali role on Ballad of the Broken Seas, composing, arranging and producing, with Lanegan servicing with his coarse, bruised vocal.

The opening track 'Deus Ibi Est' with its spartan beat and poised acoustic guitars is the first of many tracks where Lanegan takes central role with his smokey voice languishing over a dustbowl atmosphere. Campbells' voice is often reduced to ethereal embelishment. Where they do duet such as on the Lanegan penned 'Revolver' there's a shared intimacy. The yearnig ache of Lanegan, and Campbell's angelic riposte on 'The False Husband' leans heavily on the Nancy and Lee template, and especially on 'Some Velvet Morning', with its brisk tempo changes and use of guitar twang and muted trumpet. It also features Campbell's love of lush orchestration. The sexual chemistry is upped on the suggestive '(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?' with Campbell framing Lanegan's blatant come-ons over the waltzing folk ballad.

Lanegan's world weary voice is at its best on the title track, a lamentful paen of lost love where Lanegan resigned to his fate drowns his sorrow and whiles away his life in whisky and beer. A tender piano score, and guitar reverberations combine and towards the end are joined by a melancholic cello score and weeping strings. 'Ramblin' Man' is another highlight. With reams of guitar twang, whiplash percussion, moody whistling, and Lanegan's earthy voice, softened by Campbell's gentle whisperings. It's an excellent take on the Hank Williams song. Campbell is reunited with Belle & Sebastian organist Chris Geddes on the closing 'The Circus Is Leaving Town', a sorrowful lament aching with Lanegan's bruised rasp.

Campbell's contributions by no means weak are the least memorable here. They in their own way display her other passions generally more fully realised on her work as a solo artist and as a member of The Gentle Waves. Her hushed, breathy vocals on the plaintive folk of 'Black Mountain', closely resembles 'Scarborough Fair'. The fragile baroqueness of 'Dusty Wreath' with its harpsichord and Campbell's hushed harmonies belies a love of European cinema. They really don't compare with the sweet duet on 'Honey Child What Can I Do?', three minutes of West Coast influenced indie-pop, where she really brings out a tender side to Lanegan's rough diamond persona.

Throughout Ballad of the Broken Seas there are a few missed moments and a rather unecessary instrumental. It's ironic that its the Mark Lanegan tracks that work best. Since with exception of 'Revolver' everything else was masterminded by Campbell. It's still an engaging listen and Campbell is certainly deserving of the accolades that will pass her way. Let's hope that this brief dalliance is only the beginning of their relationship. For more information go to www.isobelcampbell.com