Campbell and Lanegan have a strange dynamic, the haunting vocals will charm you with time.
Hawk is Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s third studio album – and the collaboration is no longer some temporary side-project, but an entirely new vehicle for the two, one that offers a very unique and now well-developed sound.
Most will associate Campbell as ex-member of indie-pop favourites Belle & Sebastian and at the other end of the musical spectrum, Lanegan, from his work with grunge group Screaming Trees and his guest-spot of fronting Queens Of The Stone Age.
If Campbell is the brains and beauty behind this album, handling almost all of the song writing, producing and arranging, then Lanegan can be labelled the brawn; with his dominant vocals playing the contrasting draw-card.
The opening track, We Die And See Beauty Reign, gives first-time listeners a chance to adjust to the strange vocal dynamic, as Campbell’s innocent harmonies become entangled with Lanegan’s lone-cowboy murmur.
From then on, the varying direction of the album takes charge, with the country/blues acoustic of You Won’t Let Me down Again (Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist James Iha provides an awesome mid-track solo), and this energetic blues-feel is carried on later with Get Behind Me.Come Undone comes across as a country-influenced blend of Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic I Put A Spell On You.
Title track Hawk, comes out of nowhere; playing more as an instrumental intermission than a sequenced recording – you may even find yourself checking your iPod, to make sure it hasn’t shuffled artists accidentally.
Folksinger Willie Mason replaces Lanegan with guest vocals on two tracks, No Place To Fall and Cool Water. While Mason’s voice is pleasant, his inclusion adds no real value to the album and one questions why Campbell included him in at all, instead of leaving the similar-sounding songs in Lanegan’s capable hands.
Lanegan’s vocal dominance is again set-aside, with Campbell taking on two solo tracks; To Hell & Back and the elusive Sunrise, which sounds like Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang on ecstasy.
However, Hawk’s final track, Lately, closes the album perfectly, with Campbell gracefully stepping aside and replacing her own vocals with a powerful gospel choir.
While Campbell and Lanegan have successfully used Hawk to fine-tune their unique sound, the ‘duel-vocals over simple acoustic formula’ is becoming over-used. Experimentation with new instrumentals and vocal dynamics is essential, because a similar-sounding fourth album will fade quickly.
It may take listeners a while to appreciate Campbell and Lanegan’s strange dynamic, but the haunting vocals will charm you with time.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s Hawk is out now via Shock Records