Album Spotlight: Mark Lanegan - "Straight Songs of Sorrow"

>>Mark Lanegan continues his trend as being a tributary to a river of music that has poured out of the Pacific Northwest for decades.

He has helped feed the swirling headwaters of grunge rock since the late 1980’s and Straight Songs of Sorrow is no different. The former front man to the Screaming Trees has released eleven previous solo records, all of them dripping with intelligent lyrics and a gruff voice that one time stated “My heroin addiction saved me from my alcohol addiction.” This is a man who has already seen it all and it comes through in his songwriting loud and clear.

The album is as the title enlists, a sorrowful and soulful group of songs that sometimes actually hurt to listen to. He’s the Johnny Cash of grunge, a godfather of a movement, the eternal flame of the haunting rock and roll ghosts. “I’ve lost enough to know when I’ve been beaten” he sings as the song Skelton Key comes to a close, a song that mixes elements of classic rock, grunge, and electronic, something Lanegan has been called a pioneer of.

The album itself is an odd combination of those three separate styles, but it suits Lanegan well for the topics that he covers, especially in this album. The opening track “I Wouldn’t Want to Say” might be the best example and when you hit play for the first time on this album it will keep you coming back. He continues to at once sound classic, modern, and futuristic all at the same time and the poetry pours and pours, a swirling amount of depression being excised from a man who has been there and done that, an intensely seasoned veteran of the music business and life in general.

The very next track on the album sounds like something written around a campfire outside of a picturesque Pacific Northwest park, something with a view of Mount Ranier. His course voice colliding with the country twinge of a picking acoustic guitar, aptly singing “Picking Apples from a Tree”. The guitar is being played by Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton and it’s divinity could be considered irony.

The list of musicians that are on this album is staggering. Besides Lanegan’s own wife Shelley who provides intricate harmony, especially on This Game of Love, you can find collaboration with Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones, The Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Greg Dulli, Ed Harcourt, and Wesley Eisold just to name a few. It’s an all-star cast of top notch musicians. The song At Zero Below is a great example of collaboration of the seminal musicians taking part of this exquistite album. It’s a standout track on the and for more than just the all-star cast that’s backing Lanegan.

Coming on the heels of his autobiography, Lanegan said he needed this album for catharsis. Writing his autobiography took him back to memories that he cared to forget, but before his friend Anthony Bourdain died, he convinced him to write that book. After a publishing company gave him an advance, he couldn’t go back on it, even after Bourdain was gone. So, he wrote the book and that made him write this album. We’re lucky to have Lanegan baring all during a time when so much music seems doctored, prescribed, and engineered to please. This is raw emotion. This is music.