Smart things Isobel Campbell has done:
1) Leaving Belle & Sebastian (sorry, sniveling indie kids, they are by far the most overrated band in all of indiedom)
2) Teaming up with Mark Lanegan on 2006’s Ballad of the Broken Seas.
Ballad of the Broken Seas was one of the most underrated albums of 2006 and its follow-up, Sunday at Devil Dirt may be one of this year’s most criminally ignored albums. That may be due in large part to its dogged old-schoolitude: these songs sound old, really old, like as old as Tom Waits wanted to be when he was in his 20’s. There’s not much uptempo pep to go ’round on this album (Broken Seas at least had “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me”, a kickass, shuffling acoustic number); where Campbell and Lanegan’s last outing lilted over hill and dale on its way to grandma’s house, Sunday at Devil Dirt smolders, sulks, seduces, and broods. So it’s not the sort of thing that’s going to be a hit at the clubs and none of your local radio stations are going to know what to do with it (unless your local radio station is The Current, which, thanks to the internet, it had damn well better be). It doesn’t have any soundtrack-ready songs on it, so it won’t get the one-year-later introduction that M.I.A.’s Kala did because of “Paper Planes.” And that’s just as well, really. These Campbell/Lanegan albums are custom-built for curmudgeons like me who are predisposed to liking stuff like this (I’ll give Mark Lanegan a listen anytime; even when he’s in The Gutter Twins).Point is, this may be the only place you hear about this album this year, so listen up.
Due mostly to the awesome combination of Campbell’s whispery, soft voice and Mark Lanegan’s wounded growl, the overall feel of Sunday at Devil Dirt is that of a beautiful woman out of an old western who gets you up to her room, talks you out of your clothes and gives you one passionate kiss before holding a knife to your throat and demanding your money. What, this hasn’t happened to anyone else? Put it this way: if Deadwood were still on TV, Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell could very well be the house entertainment at the bar.
This album is a fitting enough follow-up to Ballad of the Broken Seas, meaning that if you couldn’t really get into that album, you probably won’t find much to love on Sunday at Devil Dirt. If you loved Broken Seas, you’ll probably love Devil Dirt. If you didn’t even listen to Ballad of the Broken Seas, go do so right now. I’ll wait while you listen.
Now, another dozen songs by this dynamic duo might strike you as a good idea, yeah? Like its predecessor, Sunday at Devil Dirt is wonderfully old-timey, packed full of songs about wandering the world, finding and losing love, finding and losing God, and of course, plenty of references to the sea, trains, and sad sad lovers. This go round even features the explicitly haunting “The Raven,” which should be released as the Edgar Allan Poetic B-Side to The Decemberists’ “Crane Wife” trilogy. Same story, darker bird, possible beastiality. Good times. The lost, unlucky-in-love characters of Ballad of the Broken Seas are more lost and even less lucky in love this time around and, lacking their former innocence, they’re looking for good times in some dark fucking places. Check out “Shotgun Blues,” if you don’t believe me. You’re greeted by a sauntering acoustic slide guitar and then Campbell slyly whispers, “Ooh, Daddy/ lay on my bed.” You’d better do what she says.
Sunday at Devil Dirt is the kind of album that you have to be in the right mood for. It’s a rainy day record. If you live in an area that’s cold and rainy this time of year, put this album on the loudest system you’ve got and crank it up. I’ve had this album since May (when it came out) and have had a hard time getting into it because I live in Los Angeles where it never rains and was 90 degrees today. You know, in fucking November. Sunday at Devil Dirt is the kind of album that should warm you up on cold winter days and put some impure thoughts in your head. Now I’m not saying that I’m lacking for impure thoughts here, but the sunshine just doesn’t fit with this album. I’ve had to work hard to get into Sunday at Devil Dirt, but now I don’t want to get back out of it. Campbell and Lanegan are a fantastic team and Sunday at Devil Dirt is a whispering beauty of an album.
I began this review with a list of smart things Isobel Campbell has done and I will end it with a list of people Mark Lanegan should always make albums with:
1) Isobel Campbell
2) Will Oldham (do this next, please, Mr. Lanegan. Those of you who bought the Soulsavers album last year understand where I’m coming from on this)
3) Tom Waits (because, I mean… Jesus, that would be awesome.)