Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme

Pairing beautiful Isobel Campbell and beastly Mark Lanegan brings unexpected sweetness

Keri Carlson

She is twee, he is grunge. She used to play in Belle & Sebastian, he used to play in Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. She has a fairy charm with blond hair and big eyes, he looks rather ogre-ish.

But as the story goes, beauty learns to love the beast, and perhaps this is why Isobel Campbell’s and Mark Lanegan’s collaboration album works so well.

Campbell’s voice is a soft and gentle whisper while Lanegan has a gruff rasp. When the two opposites meet, it’s not so much a balance or compromise. Instead, they bring out hidden attributes of each other. Campbell sounds less innocent and more mysterious, and Lanegan begins to sound tender and lovely. While this transformation takes place, however, it never is too drastic. Neither becomes a completely different artist.

Campbell often seems to get lost behind Lanegan. When they sing together, his voice overpowers hers and it makes Lanegan appear to be the frontman on “Ballad of the Broken Seas” while Campbell is reduced to backup.

Although Campbell takes a less assuming role on the album, she does the behind-the-scenes work, writing almost all the songs. Even when it’s just Lanegan singing, Campbell makes her mark with exquisite string arrangements.

The music is part of what makes this duet a seamless unit. While the voices contrast, the music finds a middle ground, blending a dark twangy guitar with a sorrowful cello.

Surprisingly, Campbell’s chamber pop fits perfectly on a barstool next to a smoking Lanegan.