Arts & Entertainment
3 min

CD reviews: A duet of duets

Some couples are just boring

They say it takes two to tango. We are told that being a couple is where it’s at. To be paired up is what we all should long for, to stay devoted and committed to the end. Till death do us part.

There is an immediate spark of truth to such opinions when you hear a duet. Two voices singing together — siblings, lovers, friends — instantly become complex and intimate. Are the voices similar? Do they sound good together?

There is a relationship present in duets. The longing of one becomes the longing of two. They have what we strive for. Invariably, however, there are problems in loveville. It can be a heady, lonely trip, too. But if you get through the pain — wow! Like Maria and Captain von Trapp used to sing, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood/ I must have done something good.”

Isobel Campbell (former cellist and vocalist for Belle And Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (ex-member of Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age) have an unusual chemistry. Lanegan has a gravelly baritone. He sounds like Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen smashed to bits. Campbell sounds ever so delicate, angelic yet ghostly. She drips sexual sweet somethings into Lanegan’s loner-man ears. She is all he desires but she’s so far away. It’s an unusual duet album, creepy yet totally bewitching.

Ballad Of The Broken Seas is Campbell’s baby. She wrote nine of the 12 tracks and producedthe album as well. She smartly realized that she and her songs needed a strong male voice off of which to play. After her letter to Tom Waits was left unanswered, she found her man in Lanegan. Campbell produced and recorded the tracks in Glasgow and Lanegan recorded his bits (and even wrote a song) in LA. The “oceans apart” vocals serve the album well. Tumbling tumbleweeds riding the wild surf of love.

The mood is set on the opening track, “Deus Ibi Est” (God is present). A lone foreboding guitar (played throughout the album by Soup Dragon’s Jim McCulloch) strums along to Lanegan’s dry sexy twang. He is beat-poet cool, talking the words as Campbell’s winsome whispers sing-along. “Against my will to these sad shores/ An unknown force has drawn me in,” he states, “Bound unto a future shaped by ancestors before me.”

“The False Husband” is utterly astonishing. It oozes hotness. This is where the inspired recordings of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra come to the fore. The Spaghetti Western production with gliding monumental strings is thrilling and Campbell’s chorus takes the song to majestic heights.

“(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me” is a waltz like no other. Campbell and Lanegan sing the words together this time. It’s very cute and folksy, almost innocent. But the words are killer. “I’m not saying I love ya/ I won’t say I’ll be true/ There’s a crimson bird flying when I go down on you.” They are truly are a couple of loners.

Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) and Matthew Sweet (1990s power pop whiz kid) are a duet of a different sort. They’re kindred spirits. This is a friendship with a mutual geeky lust for frothy ’60s pop confections. Under The Covers Vol 1 is their happy-go-lucky attempt at being approachably retro and cool. And they are, somewhat. But there is a problem. Their song choices have been done to death. Do we really need obvious re-interpretations of The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” or Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl?” No, we don’t.

Hearing their version of The Beach Boy’s beauteous “The Warmth Of The Sun” made me pine for the original. Some songs you should just not touch. But they are engaging and their voices sound brotherly and sisterly, which makes the album slightly asexual. It’s more Donny and Marie than Sonny and Cher.

The album may be packed with prime ’60s cuts but the production is thoroughly punchy and dated ’90s. Even the addition of ’60s icon Van Dyke Parks playing on a few tracks can’t stir any interesting uniqueness to this project.

On The Bangles’ Prince-penned hit “Manic Monday,” Hoffs honestly cried, “It’s just another manic Monday/ Wish it were Sunday/ My I don’t have to run day.” On their version of The Mamas And The Papas’ classic “Monday, Monday” Hoffs sings, “Monday, Monday/ Can’t trust that day.” You just feel nothing.

Girl’s seriously got some Monday issues to resolve.