Mark Lanegan

TrackAlbum
MockingbirdsThe Winding Sheet
The River RiseWhiskey For The Holy Ghost
Last One In The WorldScraps At Midnight
WheelsScraps At Midnight
Shiloh TownI'’ll Take Care Of You
One Way StreetField Songs
One Hundred DaysBubblegum
Morning Glory WineBubblegum
Harborview HospitalBlues Funeral
Ode To Sad DiscoBlues Funeral

 

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Mark Lanegan playlist

 

 

Contributor: Andrew Shields

Mark Lanegan first came to prominence with the early proto-grunge band, Screaming Trees, which he formed with the brothers Van and Gary Lee Conner and Mark Pickerel in Washington in 1985. While that band made some fine music and won the respect of many of their peers (including most notably, perhaps, that of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs with both of whom Lanegan was later to collaborate), it never quite achieved the level of commercial success which others of their contemporaries were to do. The band also established Lanegan’s reputation as a first-rate rock vocalist. Throughout the Trees existence, however, there was always to be a good deal of friction between its members and, over time, an ever-increasing difference of opinion over the future musical direction which the band should take.

The songwriting duties in Screaming Trees were also heavily weighted towards the Conner brothers and it was, perhaps, the frustrations which this caused that led Lanegan to release his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, while still a band member, in 1990. At the time many critics were surprised by the pared-back nature of the songs on the album and the folk, country, and blues influences which underlay them. While there was still a grunge edge to the album, the songs on it were also far more reflective and, at times, more gentle than anything that Lanegan had produced up to that point. It also revealed Lanegan to be an excellent songwriter in his own right, as the rueful and delicately atmospheric ballad, Mockingbirds, amply proves. The album also included the excellent Wildflowers, one of Lanegan’s finest love songs, and an excellent version of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night, on which Kurt Cobain sang backing vocals. Indeed, Dave Grohl of Nirvana was later to cite The Winding Sheet as a key influence on the musical approach which that band adopted on their classic Unplugged album.

The songs on the albums also had a number of themes and concerns in common – themes which Lanegan was to continue to explore throughout the remainder of his career. In general, the characters in his songs often seemed to be people who were living on the margins, usually trapped in seemingly desperate situations. At the same time, however, they also display a kind of grim resilience and bruised romanticism, while they also seem to be searching for some kind of rarely-achieved transcendence. This theme was, perhaps, best explored in the beautiful song, The River Rise, from Lanegan’s excellent second album, Whiskey For The Holy Ghost, which was first released in 1994. It has been suggested by some commentators that the song is a tribute to Cobain who died shortly before the album was released, although Lanegan himself has not confirmed this.

More broadly speaking, the lyrics in Lanegan’s songs were usually far less concerned with drawing a linear narrative than they were with creating an atmosphere, which, at their best, they did to superb effect. Lanegan’s own gravelly and lived-in voice, which could combine both enormous power and great delicacy also played a key role in creating the powerful and, at times, menacing ambience which underlay his best work.

He followed Whiskey For The Holy Ghost, with the extraordinary and much underrated Scraps At Midnight, an album which for unity of mood and consistency of artistic vision bears comparison with earlier masterpieces like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. There was also a new depth and soulfulness to Lanegan’s singing which, combined with the sustained excellence of the songwriting throughout, made it his most impressive achievement up to that point. Heavily influenced by his spell in a rehab clinic, it is a searching and profoundly honest album which explores his own troubled upbringing and the problems which he had faced in his personal life in a remarkably brave, if at times oblique, way. I have selected two of the finest songs: Last One In The World and the Van Morrisonesque Wheels from it here. It is a testament to Mark Lanegan’s remarkable skill as a singer that the comparison to Van The Man here is one that he can sustain in a way that very few other living male rock singers could do.

Lanegan’s growing vocal prowess was further confirmed by the remarkable album of covers, I’ll Take Care Of You, which he released in 1999. This was also a striking demonstration of his musical versatility and his ability to handle numerous different styles with the same blend of technical assurance and interpretative skill. The songs on it were remarkably diverse, ranging from soul classics like Brook Benton’s I’ll Take Care Of You and Eddie Floyd’s Consider Me, through country songs like Buck Owen’s Together Again to brilliant versions of folk gems like Little Sadie and Shanty Man’s Life, both of which I would have liked to include here. In the end, however, I chose Lanegan’s superb version of the great Tim Hardin song, Shiloh Town.

This musical versatility and eclecticism was also to lead Lanegan into a series of musical collaborations with a range of widely different artists; collaborations which, over time, were to involve him in a widely diverse range of musical styles. To date, these have involved his making albums with relatively predictable musical partners in the case of bands like Queens of the Stone Age and his work with Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins. Other projects have, however, been more surprising and these would include the three albums he has made with Isobel Campbell (in which he has further pursued his interest in folk and country music) and his work with the English electronic duo, Soul Savers.

At the same time, Lanegan has continued to make consistently excellent solo albums and I have included some of the better songs from them here. Of these, One Way Street, One Hundred Days, Morning Glory Wine and Harborview Hospital are as hauntingly powerful and atmospheric as the best of any of his early work. Ode To Sad Disco, from his powerful 2012 album, Blues Funeral, is a fine example of his determination to continue to push his musical boundaries and represents a brilliant fusion of his trademark sound with influences derived from electronic and dance music.

Lanegan’s most recent album, Imitations, continues this pattern of musical experimentation and reflects his, perhaps, unexpected admiration for some of the ‘crooners’ of the late 1960s/early 1970s such as Andy Williams. While the album is undeniably a patchy one and not all of the covers work as well as the best of them do (the outstanding tracks perhaps are his superb version of the Nick Cave song Brompton Oratory, which I would have liked to have included here and his soulful reinterpretation of the Neil Sedaka song, Solitaire), it is, nonetheless, an indication of this magnificent singer’s determination to continue to expand his musical horizons. Where he will venture next is anyone’s guess, but over the last thirty years, Mark Lanegan has established himself as both a rock singer of the very first rank and a songwriter whose music has a power and depth which only a handful of other contemporary artists can match.

 

Mark Lanegan official site

Onewhiskey.com: dedicated to the music & fans of Mark Lanegan

Mark Lanegan biography (iTunes)

Thanks Andrew. Anyone up for toppermosts of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan … all most welcome!

TopperPost #242

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Apr 3, 2014

    Excellent rundown of a compelling artist. I’m struck by the versatility of his voice.

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