Mark Lanegan/Duke Garwood
Edinburgh Liquid Rooms, December 4, 2017
Duke Garwood sounds like he should be from the southern states of America. As I comment to the soon to be Mrs. 17 Seconds, I assume (having heard a fair bit of his music) that he’s from one of the southern states. Actually: he’s actually English. But to hell with geographical and bibliographical concerns – his swampy, slow solo blues with his gravelly vocals is rather fine. And it serves as an apt opener for a headline set by his sometime collaborator Mark Lanegan.
Mark Lanegan couldn’t really be from anywhere else than the greater Seattle area. Four decades into his career, much has been written about those he knew no longer with us. But let us dwell on the present. Lanegan opens with ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’ – the opening track from new album Gargoyle before going straight into the equally fine ‘Gravedigger’s Song’ from 2012’s Blues Funeral album. That, young uns, is how to get your gig off to a fine start.
In the spirit of his last few albums, it’s a bluesy grunge sound with hints of southern gothic – that design on the front cover of the new record evokes decaying churches, and whilst simplistic, it’s just so apt. While both Gargoyle and Phantom Home showed that he’d perhaps (re-)connected with the 80’s college rock of his youth, it’s telling that live he’s less 80s sounding than the album. That voice, of course, is gravelly, yet warm, and it’s clear why he comes across as survivor.
Not least on standout tracks like ‘Emperor’ and the utterly brilliant ‘Nocturne,’ the latter one of the best songs he’s ever but his vocals to. Sure I could draw comparisons to other artists, musically and in terms of longevity, to say nothing of reeling off the long list of those he’s collaborated with- but why bother? He’s doing just fine as he is.
It’s quite something to note that Gargoyle is Mark Lanegan’s tenth solo album. He first gained attention leading grunge godfathers Screaming Trees back in the 1980s – and a wealth of projects and collaborations have followed since 1984. If Screaming Trees didn’t quite reach the Everest-like commercial peaks of Nirvana, Lanegan has managed to successfully immerse himself in vastly different musical activities- and compared to a number of his contemporaries avoid repeating himself for decades, turning into a totalitarian bandleader or simply winding up dead.
It does, of course, help that he’s got that voice. Comparable- in a good way – to the deep bass voices of Leonard Cohen (RIP) or Tom Waits, it’s leathery and gruff, yet still inherently musical. Frankly, Lanegan could recite the phonebook or a shopping list, and his expression would still be enticing listening. When the first track to be released from the album ‘Nocturne’ arrived a few months ago, this was still there, greeting the listener like a wry smile over the airwaves.
Where does Gargoyle fit into his catalogue? There’s definitely a sense of following on from 2012’s Blues Funeral and 2014’s Phantom Radio. These albums have a sense of an alternative rock history, drawing in not just grunge and dabbling with electronics in various forms, but also 80s goth music. While you don’t hear much of this on the Screaming Trees albums, these have come to the fore far more on recent albums.
Whilst entire dissertations could be written on the meanings behind ‘goth’ and ‘gothic’ you can’t fail to pick up on these themes from the album cover alone. It’s a gothic church fence, like the kind you would find around a 19th century style church, where one assumes you might also find a, um, gargoyle.
And this is perhaps where the album might struggle a bit. It has some great songs – in the pre-internet era, you might have said the aforementioned ‘Nocturne’ was worth the price of admission alone – and ‘First Day Of Winter’ and ‘Emperor’ are amongst other strong contenders as well. Yet somehow, whilst it’s a decent album, it can lack originality at times and the feeling can be that somehow it’s not quite the sum of its many parts. It’s gothic, it’s noir, and it’s kind of fun, yet somehow it doesn’t quite connect at the end of the day.
Mark Lanegan Band -‘Blues Funeral’ (4AD)
It’s been eight years since Mark Lanegan’s last solo album, the (rightly) highly regarded Bubblegum. Since then, as well as work with Queens Of The Stone Age, he’s also made no less than three albums with former Belle & Sebastian Chanteuse Isobel Campbell. I love all three of those records – and yet I am pleased to be able to report that Blues Funeral sounds absolutely nothing like any of them.
This album opens with the frankly incredible ‘The Grace Diggers Song.’ Time it was, it might have been appropriate to say that this was worth the price of the album alone – but that may be a pointless things to say to the iTunes generation. Either way, this has been the free track doing the rounds, it’s a fantastic start to what continues to be a great album right the way through.
What Lanegan manages to do so well right across the course of the album is to marry the spirit of Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and Nick Cave to produce a gothic-sounding (without being goth, if you catch my meaning) sound that is all his own. He certainly builds opon much of his work over the last decades plus, without ever sounding particularly reminiscent of QOTSA, Isobel Campbell or his old band Screaming Trees. His voice seems to get ever deeper – the only two men I can think of who sound any deeper are Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits (both of whom have also released excellent albums in last few months).
The strength of ‘The Grave Diggers Song’ is such that this may well be the track that gets much of the attention, though ‘Bleeding Muddy Water’ and ‘St. Louis Elegy’ are pretty fine too.
Certain to do well in end of year lists, including mine.
Blues Funeral is out now on 4AD.
Mark Lanegan Band -‘The Grave Diggers Song.’ mp3 This MP3 has been removed DESPITE the fact it is still freely available AND I gave the album a great write-up.
Stream the entire album here
The ‘solo artist’ bit is significant here.
He’s collaborated with former Belle and Sebastioan chanteuse Isobel Campbell on no less than three albums, to say nothing of his work with Queens Of The Stone Age.
But now Mark Lanegan is set to return with his first solo album in -count ’em! – eight years. Entitled Blues Funeral
, and coming out on 4AD on February 6, the opening track ‘Gravedigger’s Song’ has been doing the rounds for a little while now. It is absolutely brilliant, and really quite addictive (I’ve started playing it on repeat).
The tracklisting for the album is as follows:
1. The Gravedigger’s Song
2. Bleeding Muddy Water
3. Gray Goes Black
4. St Louis Elegy
5. Riot In My House
6. Ode To Sad Disco
7. Phantasmagoria Blues
8. Quiver Syndrome
9. Harborview Hospital
11. Deep Black Vanishing Train
12. Tiny Grain Of Truth
Tour dates can be found on his website.
Subscribe to his mailing list below to get a free ‘mp3 of ‘Gravedigger’s Song’ trust me; you’ll be glad you did.