“I always consider myself to be a pretty good breakfast cook that ended up as a singer,” Mark Lanegan told an interviewer in 2008. That would be a breakfast cook with a distinctively rich and grumbly baritone, in any case. And while the years have taken him on an unexpected musical journey—I mean, no one saw those three albums with Scottish singer/cellist Isobel Campbell coming—everything eventually reduces to that voice. While most facile efforts at pigeonholing Lanegan link him forever with the birth of grunge rock (his band, Screaming Trees, were one of Seattle’s best back in the day), there’s nothing particularly “grunge”-y about Lanegan, who did not fully explore the depth of his vocal tone until the Trees were history. His range and idiosyncrasy align him more with Tom Waits than Kurt Cobain.
Take “Gravedigger’s Song,” and listen to how the very rumble and swing of the music echoes the sound Lanegan makes. However hard-edged the vibe or menacing the lyrics with Lanegan there’s an inescapable caress involved; he sings to embrace you. And he embraces melody, however darkly presented. The music, meanwhile, is more canny than it lets on. As much as the song seems to draw on Delta blues for its spit and spirit, the thing nevertheless spills out with a triple-time feel. That juxtaposition, I think, opens the ear, at least for me, as I tend to like blues that are tweaked more than the standard-issue stuff. And note too that for all the percussive momentum here, the guitar is given the spine-tingling moments. That off chord it hits, first at 0:53, barely audible and yet seething with eloquence, just about nails the whole song—my ear semi-consciously salutes its return each time after that.
“Gravedigger’s Song” is from the album Blues Funeral, released in February on 4AD Records. It’s his seventh solo album, and his first since 2004’s Bubblegum, as well as his first following the Campbell trilogy (note they were featured once on Fingertips, in January 2006.) MP3 via 4AD Records. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
And I may as well point out that Lanegan has also been featured here for his duet with the Swedish singer/songwriter Maggie Björklund, in May of last year.
photo credit: Anna Hrnjak