Ann Powers

Mark Lanegan: A Secret Rock Star Still Shines Darkly

In 2012, Mark Lanegan released the album Blues Funeral. Black Pudding, an album-length collaboration with guitarist and singer Duke Garwood, will come out in May. i i

hide captionIn 2012, Mark Lanegan released the album Blues Funeral. Black Pudding, an album-length collaboration with guitarist and singer Duke Garwood, will come out in May.

Sam Holden/Courtesy of the artist
In 2012, Mark Lanegan released the album Blues Funeral. Black Pudding, an album-length collaboration with guitarist and singer Duke Garwood, will come out in May.

In 2012, Mark Lanegan released the album Blues Funeral. Black Pudding, an album-length collaboration with guitarist and singer Duke Garwood, will come out in May.

Sam Holden/Courtesy of the artist

There are unsung heroes of rock and roll, and then there are complicated cases like Mark Lanegan. The Washington State-born rocker with the voice like a shifting fog earned a spot in rock history as singer for the 1990s slacker psychedelic group the Screaming Trees — remember "Nearly Lost You"? Since those hair-tossing days, Lanegan has kept his credibility fresh by releasing occasional solo albums (last year's Blues Funeral was beat-driven and moodily wonderful), working with bands like Queens of the Stone Age and making leather-and-lace duets with various female singers, most notably Isobel Campbell, formerly of indie favorites Belle and Sebastian. This man doesn't have to worry about being forgotten.

Yet describing Lanegan as a cult figure fails to communicate how very busy — and relevant — he keeps himself. At 48, he's hitting a creative peak, collaborating with a startling variety of artists across the musical spectrum. On Record Store Day, he'll release a single with electronic music doyen Moby. He's on the upcoming QOTSA album, and his band is currently touring with Nick Cave. He's done children's music, dipped into country and embraced electronica.

And Lanegan hasn't forgotten his roots. Today sees the release of the deluxe reissue of Above, the 1995 album from Seattle supergroup Mad Season; Lanegan provides vocals and lyrics on three newly completed tracks. Here's a playlist celebrating the many endeavors of Mark Lanegan, the hardest working secret star in the rock biz.

Lanegan's Latest

  • 'Black Book Of Fear' by Mad Season

    YouTube

    Though Lanegan hasn't live in Seattle for years, he's remained connected to the deeply loyal scene that gave him his start, where future rock stars shared group houses and many side projects. Mad Season was one of those, a bluesy group uniting vocalist Layne Staley of Alice in Chains with guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and Walkabouts bassist John Baker Saunders. Mad Season only recorded one album, and Staley and Saunders eventually both lost their lives to heroin — a habit that Lanegan also had and eventually broke. This track, one of three songs Staley never completed that features new lyrics and vocals by Lanegan, is a highlight on the treats-packed Above reissue: a spiritual resurrection conjured by the prayers of a friend.

  • 'Same Old Man' (split 7" with Karen Dalton)

    YouTube

    Even if you're not into his heavy moan, you've got to admit that Lanegan has great taste. His solo career began as an aborted Leadbelly tribute project also featuring Nirvana's Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain. In 1999 he released Field Songs, an expertly curated exploration of American roots music that married gospel to country and California punk. And he's always popping up on the most intriguing covers projects. This reinterpretation of a traditional folk song appears on a split single with the 1971 version by Karen Dalton, whose bent alto is like the female version of Lanegan's own sandy baritone. It's part of a colored-vinyl singles series celebrating the ten-year anniversary of label Light in the Attic.

  • "Familiar Act" by Christine Owman

    YouTube

    The rumbling low notes Lanegan favors inevitably invoke a certain masculine archetype: even when he's singing, he's the strong, silent type. He's a classic match for a certain kind of whispery-mysterious feminine duet partner. Mostly, Lanegan has explored this terrain with the Scottish vocalist Isobel Campbell, with whom he's made three albums that earned the pair many comparisons to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Recently Lanegan's expanded his pool of muses, recording a mesmerizing version of The xx's "Crystalised" with English singer Martina Topley-Bird and appearing twice on Little Beast, the adventurous new album by Swede Christine Owman. "Familiar Act" is one of those, a sneaky little number about the silk tethers of romantic abuse.

  • 'The Weeping Song' with Nick Cave

    YouTube

    Nobody, including the singer himself, would claim that Lanegan formed his style from uncut cloth. Plenty of forebears, from Johnny Cash to Scott Walker, have journeyed into the same sonic and spiritual abyss. The Mark Lanegan Band's current tour supporting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds puts him literally onstage with one such elder. They're giving fans a major treat by dueting on one of the most beloved cuts from the Seeds' 1990 album The Good Son.

  • 'War Memorial' with Duke Garwood

    YouTube

    Over the course of his long career, Lanegan has cultivated many blood-brother bonds. He's teamed up with Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli in the after-hours commiserating sessions of The Gutter Twins, releasing the album Saturnalia in 2008. He's served as consigliere to Josh Homme in Queens of the Stone Age for more than a decade, and will appear on the desert rock band's new album, to be released later this year. And he's recorded a powerful, meditative new abum with his longtime friend, the multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. Black Pudding comes out in May; on this track, Lanegan speaks in the voice of a dead soldier as Garwood plays supernatural taps behind him.

  • 'Long Cold Race (Abbey Road Mix)' with Maciej Werk

    YouTube

    Unlike many blues-besotted rockers, Lanegan doesn't limit himself to the standard guitar-bass-drums-maybe-horns configurations. He's long pursued collaborations with producers more known for beats than for killer riffs. He basically became a bandmate of the British electronica duo the Soulsavers in the late 2000s, extensively recording with them and joining them on tour. In 2010 he released a track with the pioneering trip-hop act U.N.K.L.E and last year he showed up on the album Songs That Make Sense by Maciej Werk, a veteran of the Polish industrial music scene, to record this steely, funky duet.

  • 'Sneakers' by Sandra Boynton

    YouTube

    Here's a happy little ditty that proves Lanegan can go bright. It's from Dog Train, an album of songs by children's author Sandra Boynton and composer Michael Ford, and it proves that Mr. Gravitas can be as goofy as Dan Zanes when he wants to be. (Also in the family-fun category: Last year's outstanding holiday album, available only on tour but up on YouTube.) Lanegan must have enjoyed this outing, because he's slated to sing the title track on Boynton's latest musical effort, Frog Trouble, to be released in September. We'll finally get to hear what Dark Mark thinks it's like being green.

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