Artist: Isobel Cambpell and Mark Lanegan
Release Date: August 24
Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Stream
Download: You can stream the whole album on Campbell's Facebook page, if you "Like" her.
Hawk, the third collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, is a beautifully strange album. This is sort of the pair's defining quality: she's a delicate chanteuse, he's the growling former frontman of Screaming Trees. Combine her light voice with his gravelly rumble, and pretty much any song is a study in juxtaposition. Add a haunting, sparsely-plucked guitar("We Die and See Beauty Reign") or a full choir ("Lately"), and the result is a diverse, off-kilter album that still sounds lovely.
The problem with Hawk, though, is the noticeable lack of Campbell. It would be too easy to talk about Campbell's career as the muse to male band leaders (she famously quit Belle and Sebastian in 2002, ending her relationship with Stuart Murdoch) because she's had a successful solo career. But she somehow gets lost on Hawk among the three male musicians with whom she's collaborating.
Throughout the album, she and Lanegan sing in unison but not necessarily in harmony; Campbell's pixie-eqsue vocals always feel quieter, almost far away against Lanegan's deep voice. She's an afterthought on "You Won't Let Me Down Again," the album's single; it ultimately belongs to Lanegan and Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist James Iha, with Campbell, at best, a back-up singer on this track. The same goes for "No Place to Fall," a beautiful Townes Van Zandt cover featuring country singer Willy Mason. Even his slightly monotone but oh-so-sorrowful voice stands out against Campbell's sweet pipes."Come Undone"--with its gospel influenced back beat, composed with piano is strings--could have showcased Campbell's chanteuse reputation. But instead of taking the reigns on this song, she serve as an accessory. "I can't get/close to you/I come undone," she sings, which is sort of what happens when Campbell records with Lanegan. She doesn't exactly falls apart, but she sort of falls away.
Campbell's first real solo comes on "Sunrise," after eight other songs. Just her voice and a plucked guitar, it's absolutely the prettiest, creepiest thing on the album. The next song, "To Hell and Back Again," feels quietly tortured like Karen Carpenter but strong and certain like Joan Baez. Those songs are just two examples of what she could have created: Campbell produced the album, after all, which sadly means her role in the background is also her own doing.