Mark Lanegan was once a major player on the rock scene, but that was a long time ago. Ask the average person about Screaming Trees, and he'll probably assume you're referring to the Ents in The Lord of the Rings, not Lanegan's grunge-era group. That's just as well, though, since Ballad is hardly an attempt to recapitulate the Seattle sound. Rather, it's a collaboration with former Belle & Sebastian chanteuse Isobel Campbell that's as low-key as it is quirky.
"Deus Ibi Est," the opening number, establishes the set's tone and tempo. Instead of dishing out high-volume angst, as he might have done back in the day, Lanegan softly intones self-consciously elegiac couplets over a martial rhythm decorated by Campbell's ethereal warbling. Subsequent offerings include a soothing yet creepy folk air ("Black Mountain"), a melodramatic chantey (the title cut) and assorted Western mythmaking ("Revolver," "Dusty Wreath").
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None of this deadpan weirdness will put Lanegan back on top, but he doesn't seem to care -- and good for him. It's about time those Trees quieted down.