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Mark Lanegan

It’s hard to imagine that sullen solo singer and part-collaborator, MARK LANEGAN, was at the core of the grunge scene, but with 80s/90s rockers SCREAMING TREES, the man could well have been the next Cobain, CORNELL or VEDDER. Needless to say, the Trees never quite fulfilled their promise, curtailed somewhat by a man often missing on solo sojourns, or in the demonist domain of drugs and all its immediate problems.
Originally a drummer, however brief, LANEGAN (born November 25, 1964, Ellensburg, Washington) took on the role of singer when no one else in his band would or could – it was either that or nothing. During an intermediatory period between SCREAMING TREES moving labels from S.S.T. to Epic Records, LANEGAN and soon-to-be DINOSAUR JR guitarist, Mike Johnson (also his producer), combined ideas on the singer’s solo debut, THE WINDING SHEET (1990) {*7}. For the most part acoustic and sombre, Mark surrounded himself with Sub Pop gloom merchants, Kurt Cobain (on `Down In The Dark’ and “their take” of LEADBELLY’s `Where Did You Sleep Last Night’; with NIRVANA’s Krist Novoselic), while stalwart grunge-meisters Jack Endino, Steve Fisk and SCREAMING TREES drummer Mark Pickerel drift in from time on choice cuts, `Mockingbirds’, `Ugly Sunday’ and `Wild Flowers’.
Following on from SCREAMING TREES albums “Uncle Anesthesia” (1991) and “Sweet Oblivion” (1992), Sub Pop came up with a LANEGAN sophomore effort, WHISKEY FOR THE HOLY GHOST (1994) {*8}. Authored in its entirety by Mark and featuring usual suspects (except his NIRVANA buddies and Fisk), star-billing this time went to have-a-go drummers Tad Doyle (TAD), J Mascis (DINOSAUR JR) and Dan Peters (MUDHONEY); Kurt Fedora (bassist of Gobblehoof) was also present. A beautifully constructed album, his croaky larynx dripping with booze bathed in baccy, the introspective LANEGAN exorcises his demons through `House A Home’, `The River Rise’, `Carnival’, `Borracho’ and `El Sol’.
Looking like, and indeed it was as it turned out, SCREAMING TREES’ “Dust” (1996) was the band’s swansong set. They split in 2000. In the meantime, LANEGAN served up a third album, SCRAPS AT MIDNIGHT (1998) {*7}, a rootsy record that captured the rustic restrains of the wayward warbler (and Johnson). Stripped of anything verging on grunge, LANEGAN growls and grinds out several blues-addled beauts like `Bell Black Ocean’, `Stay’, `Hospital Roll Call’ and `Wheels’.
Having recorded The 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS’ `Slide Machine’ and the traditional `Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ for B-sides, covers set I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU (1999) {*7} was his purgatory nod to his peers and pioneers. As diverse and drifting as one could imagine, LANEGAN echoed ghosts of his past through country/folk songs: `Badi-Da’ (FRED NEIL), `Shiloh Town’ (TIM HARDIN), `Boogie Boogie’ (TIM ROSE) and `Together Again’ (BUCK OWENS). Soulful as EDDIE FLOYD & BOOKER T. JONES’ `Consider Me’ and back-to-back with the BROOK BENTON-penned title track, stand-out cut was The GUN CLUB’s `Carry Home’, while there was also room for LEAVING TRAINS’ `Creeping Coastlines Of Light’ and a few other timeless threads.
LANEGAN continued to nurse his alt-country blues on his fifth solo effort, FIELD SONGS (2001) {*6}, his grainy narratives given added muscle by such alt-rock notables as Ben Shepherd (SOUNDGARDEN), Bill Rieflin (MINISTRY), Chris Goss (MASTERS OF REALITY), Duff McKagan (GUNS N’ ROSES) and of course, MIKE JOHNSON; Mark’s ex-wife Wendy Rae Fowler featured on `No Easy Action’. Comparisons to TOM WAITS had always irked supporters of LANEGAN, but in songs such as `One Way Street’, `Don’t Forget Me’ (but not the sadly missed JEFFREY LEE PIERCE’s `Kimiko’s Dream House’), it was hardly surprising.
Described as a mini-set with 8 tracks, HERE COMES THAT WEIRD CHILL (2003) {*6}, meanwhile, featured guest spots from various MASTERS OF REALITY, AFGHAN WHIGS and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE personnel (plus Dean Ween), the perfect company for the MARK LANEGAN BAND’s brooding, coruscating narratives and an appropriately twisted cover of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART’s `Clear Spot’.
McKagan and MASTERS OF REALITY man Chris Goss also featured on the gutter balladeering BUBBLEGUM (2004) {*7}, the latter co-producing on an album that also featured Greg Dulli (again), Polly Jean Harvey and Izzy Stradlin. As suggested in its title, the UK Top 50 “band” set is driven either by raucous garage-pop “bubblegum” (`Sideways In Reverse’, `Hit The City’, `Methamphetamine Blues’, etc.) or Mark’s usual foray into his gin-soaked swaggers such as `Strange Religion’ and `Morning Glory Wine’. Having been a proxy member of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE for most of the first half of the 00s, LANEGAN was also joined by mainmen Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri.
One of LANEGAN’s most unlikely collaborators of subsequent years was Scotland’s own ISOBEL CAMPBELL, latterly of BELLE AND SEBASTIAN. Although they recorded separately at first from both Glasgow and Los Angeles on the Mercury Music Prize-nominated “Ballad Of The Broken Seas” (2006), further Top 40 sets “Sunday At Devil Dirt” (2008) and “Hawk” (2010) brought the MINOGUE/CAVE-like duo together. Meanwhile, The GUTTER TWINS were born out of ex-AFGHAN WHIGS and now TWILIGHT SINGERS boss Greg Dulli, with composite member LANEGAN at the helm of their one and only set, “Saturnalia” (2008); he also participated in the SOULSAVERS project a year earlier.
As the MARK LANEGAN BAND (mainly with ELEVEN producer/multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes and ex-RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS drummer Jack Irons, plus guests), comeback set BLUES FUNERAL (2012) {*7} was Mark’s drift into electronica Spaghetti Western. Coiled and menacing, the complex alt-blues meld of grainy textures was best served by `Riot In My House’ (featuring Josh Homme), `Bleeding Muddy Water’ (showcasing the slide guitar of Duke Garwood), `Ode To Sad Disco’, `Leviathan’ and the LANOIS-esque `Harborview Hospital’.
Together and billed with the aforementioned Garwood, a relatively unknown multi-instrumentalist who’d worked with SIR RICHARD BISHOP, KURT VILE, among others, BLACK PUDDING (2013) {*8}, was the collective collision between a pair in tune to their own ghostly blues. Skeletal, spooky, fractured and drenched in gothic grooves, choice cuts came in the shimmering shapes of `Pentacostal’, `Death Rides A White Horse’, `Mescalito’, `Shade Of The Sun’ and closing piece, `Manchester Special’. One hopes there’s more LANEGAN and Garwood sets in the pipeline.
Fourteen years since his “I’ll Take Care Of You” set of covers, alt-rock crooner LANEGAN takes another déjà vu recollection of records his parents more or less played when he was a lad – and beyond. Through IMITATIONS (2013) {*6}, nostalgia and Nashville have a big part to play in Mark’s restraining sophistication and, while one could sense the love and loss in his mournful interpretations (example JOHN BARRY’s `You Only Live Twice’, formerly sung by “Bond” chanteuse NANCY SINATRA), one is tempted to reach the Spotify button to hear the original; NEIL SEDAKA’s `Solitaire’ and Weill-Brecht’s `Mack The Knife’ other sombre “limitations”. Leaving his reflective repertoire of old in the past, LANEGAN brings the listener right up to date via CHELSEA WOLFE’s seductive `Flatlands’, via peers such as pals GREG DULLI (`Deepest Shade’), NICK CAVE (`Brompton Oratory’) and idol JOHN CALE (`I’m Not The Loving Kind’).
Regrouping his MARK LANEGAN BAND for the UK Top 30, PHANTOM RADIO (2014) {*7}, the doom-struck frontman (with multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, synth-man Aldo Struyf and sticksman Jean-Phillippe De Gheest) digs up some dirt for a much-needed resurrection. His voice less gritty and more husky than on previous sides, Mark fuses a melting of hoodoo blues, rural roots-folk and his usual singer/songwriter sensibility. While one can vouch that the man had lost none of his swagger and panache, highlights include `Harvest Home’, `Judgement Time’, `Floor Of The Ocean’ and `The Killing Season’.
If further examples of his previous album’s popularity among his peers, A THOUSAND MILES OF MIDNIGHT: PHANTOM RADIO REMIXES (2015) {*6}, roped in a string of big names such as MARK STEWART, GREG DULLI, UNKLE, BOBY, et al to re-envisage and soundscape the set.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS May-Sep2013-Oct2014-Feb2015

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