Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan "Ballad of the Broken Seas" (V2)
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan — the former cellist/vocalist of Scottish indie pop band Belle & Sebastian and the former frontman of Seattle grunge group Screaming Trees, respectively — seem an unlikely pop pairing. Their debut disc has garnered favorable U.K. notice, invariably referencing Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood in keeping with Campbell's acknowledged debt to the classic 1960s duo.
But Campbell-Lanegan is much darker stuff, minus their role models' vocal sparkle and soul. Song titles like "Scarborough Fair" soundalike "Black Mountain" (sung solo by Campbell) and "The False Husband" hint at typically bleak subject matter, the latter track resembling a portentous Angelo Badalamenti-David Lynch collaboration. In such context, the voices juxtapose well: Lanegan's tired, Leonard Cohen-like low murmur and Campbell's high, feathery whisper. But she can get so wispy that on the sweetly melancholic "Saturday's Gone" (another solo outing) that the words are barely discernible.
Campbell also borders on intolerably cute in her breathy counterpoint to Lanegan's lead on an alt-country cover of Hank Williams "Ramblin' Man." But she has an undeniable charm, and the songs (most of them are her originals) have sparing, acoustic-oriented arrangements that are certainly pretty enough. Best is "Honey Child What Can I Do?" which is buttressed by a string orchestration recalling an Elmer Bernstein western score.
Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" (Anti- Records)
The smoky alto of chanteuse Neko Case would be right at home in a nightclub or honky tonk. The young lady can sing nearly anything — even mediocre pop songs, which is what she does on "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood."
As the title suggests, Case sometimes tries too hard. Often shunning the typical verse-chorus song structure, she presents 12 original tunes that go beyond quirky to off-kilter and plain annoying.
At times Case sounds as though she's singing in a well, which is bad, because with a sultry voice that can make knees buckle and spines shiver, she requires no such studio trickery.
Case's voice is so appealing that she can pull off a line like, "They placed an ingot in her breast to burn cool and collected." She shines brightest on "Hold On, Hold On" and "The Needle Has Landed," country-tinged songs that verge on being catchy, while the gospel tune "John Saw That Number" lacks only a snappy bass to become a crowd pleaser.
One verse of "Maybe Sparrow" showcases Case at full throttle. It's enthralling — and a reminder of what's missing elsewhere. Case the writer needs to give Case the singer better material.
David Gilmour, "On an Island," (Sony BMG)
Since "On an Island" is David Gilmour's first solo album since 1984's "About Face" (and first studio recording since Pink Floyd's 1994 "The Division Bell"), his label — perhaps wanting to jog the memory of music fans — is selling the point that he's "the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd."
No need to worry: "On an Island" matches up with the best of Floyd — unlike "Ca Ira," last years operatic effort from the group's departed founding member, Roger Waters.
The opening foghorn sound and billowing, classical-tinged overture herald the album's aquatic undercurrents and lead into an atmospheric title track buoyed by the familiar backup voices of David Crosby and Graham Nash. Present, too, are Pink Floyd's organist Richard Wright and early guitarist Rado Klose; broadening this Floyd stylistic base are co-producer Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music's guitarist) and orchestrator Zbigniew Preisner, the renowned Polish film composer.
"The Blue," then, offers a languorous seascape, while instrumental "Then I Close My Eyes" dreamily employs dobro-like Hawaiian guitar, cornet and even glass harmonica. "Take a Breath" starts a three-song centerpiece with Gilmour's guitar play emptying into his jazzy saxophone instrumental "Red Sky at Night," which, in turn, flows into the bluesy "This Heaven."
The ironically titled finisher "Where We Start" caps Gilmour's auspicious return with an airy melody and time-themed, Floyd-worthy lyrics.