Album Reviews: Ballad of the Broken Seas by Isobel CampbellWhat happens when a female cellist/vocalist from a Scottish twee-pop band makes an album with a '90s grunge-rock vet? That's the question answered by Isobel Campbell (Belle & Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) on Ballad of the Broken Seas. This is not an album by a rocker who thought he needed some female backing vocals. On the contrary, this is a project initiated and produced by Isobel Campbell. But it's not a cute role-reversal with Lanegan as a featured vocalist on her album either. This is a collaborative effort with the vocals equally shared throughout the album's twelve tracks.
The sound created by this seemingly odd couple pairing can best be compared to the '70s output of Leonard Cohen. This is due in part to Lanegan's gravely world-weary vocals, but equally responsible is the lush orchestration that effortlessly carries each track. It's a confident, no-gimmick release by two indie-minded, multi-talented singer/songwriters. Even though this is a pairing of two stylized vocalists (Isobel has the sweet voice of a '60s folky-pop star and Mark's voice is the intersection of Tom Waits and Neil Diamond), the two only have one actual duet - "Honey Child What Can I Do?" They buried it as track ten for the fully engaged listener. It beautifully and seamlessly follows the other payoff track on the album, the gentle, begging-to-be-on-a-film-score instrumental, "It's Hard to Kill a Bad Thing."
This is not a 21st century iTunes-type release. The album's anachronistic sound unfortunately won't find the scores of fickle ADHD digital music consumers buying up the album's one or two standout tracks. It's a slow burn and a wonderfully cohesive album, perfect for those who still listen to complete albums on long drives at night... and set them to repeat. - Doug Kamin
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