Music News

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

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").

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.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts