Review: Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Sunday at Devil Dirt

Label: Fontana International

Released: November 11, 2008

There aren’t many albums as low-key as Sunday at Devil Dirt. Every movement of the album is so subtle that it’s difficult to discern. The first two tracks, “Seafaring Song and “The Raven,” seem more like movie soundtrack material than the road into a dynamic album, but they set the sparse scene for the album’s first stand-alone song, “Salvation,” which makes it clear that this album searches and journeys. Throughout though, it does maintain the feel of a soundtrack (albeit of a very good movie), with songs like the jazzy, cabaret “Back Burner” providing segues in the story. None of these are filler in the traditional sense though. They’re very strong tracks taken in context and enhance the songs they act as a bridge between as well as the album as a whole.

It’s easy to think that Sunday at Devil Dirt is dominated by Lanegan’s deep, rough echoes of Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop (and some would say Tom Waits, but Lanegan has a true quality that escapes the novelty of Waits’ work). That gritty earthiness is the album’s grounding. However, countering that is Campbell’s thin, ethereal, almost angelic, yet sexy voice. The two together set the tone for the turmoil that exists between heavenly salvation and earthly struggle. These two contrasting voices find their way through the sparse musical scenes that range from subtle strings to folk to dirty jazz and blues. As carefully constructed as the album is, Campbell has written, and performed with Lanegan, a work that is intensely human in both disillusionment and hope. I wish someone would make the movie to go with this, because there’s something greater than even this album in there.

Satriani: 7/10
Zappa: 7/10
Dylan: 9/10
Aretha: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.