A few years ago, the unlikely pair of Isobel Campbell (of Belle and Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (of
Screaming Trees) released “Ballad Of The Broken Seas,” and walked away with a 2006 Mercury Music Prize nomination. Now, they’re back.

The difference in “Sunday At Dirt Devil” is mostly in the compositions themselves. The album isn’t as dark as the prior one—it allows the pair to spread a little further, like on “Come On Over,” a sweetly seductive ballad. “Seafaring Song” is another example of how well the album can work. Lanegan is doing his best Nick Cave, using a register so deep it nearly echoes within itself, while Isobell sings along, lower in the mix, with her gentle, comforting voice. Together, you get a devil-on-my-left, angel-on-my-right feeling—like the song is sad, but there is hope and love behind it. And “The Flame That Burns” is the can’t-miss track here. It’s awesome.

Other songs don’t work as well. “Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart” is an upbeat don’t-fergit-me country-style ditty, and it falls flat because it fails to capitalize on the emotion these two vocalists are capable of expressing just by the way they sing what they sing. Lyrics are far less important than the
music for singers with the skills of Campbell and Lanegan; when the mood of the tune isn’t right, the
thing just can’t stay together.

Regular readers of this page know I’m a huge fan of Lanegan, and Saturnalia is definitely a contender for my top albums of the year, so it might sound strange to see this criticism: There’s too much Lanegan here! What makes these ballads work so well is the interplay, and just about here every song is dominated by Lanegan. In fact, I suspect it is his influence that led to including so much country/blues on the record, but the best song of this genre is “Shot Gun Blues,” which is all Campbell. I can’t give this as strong a review as “Ballad of the Broken Seas,” but it is a strong and solid release that will definitely appeal to fans of that first record. And when the album is good, it’s great.

Come On Over (Turn Me On)

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