5 of Mark Lanegan’s Duets
They are worth a listen.
By Scott Mason
On February 22nd, 2022, Mark Lanegan (57), musician and author, passed away from causes still unknown. It has taken me a long time to put this into words. I’m having too much trouble figuring out where to go first. I’m going to start with the way I am focusing on now, the massive number of side projects, collaborations and guest appearances he has been featured in over the years. His humble beginnings as the frontman of grunge band, Screaming Trees are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Long Gone Day by Mad Season-Above
The thing that made grunge songwriting seem like a new alternative rock phenomenon was a reliance on dichotomy. Combining tension and harmony, anger and vulnerability or softness and fuzzed out mayhem all within one song. Bongos seem easy to play. Xylophones are usually for elementary school classes. Humming can be infuriating. Saxophones can easily feel out of place. It certainly does make for an unsettling listening experience though. Or rather, it would have, if not for the fact that its’ vocalists were two of the three most melodic frontmen the scene will ever have to offer; Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees. One of the strengths of getting two different artists together from different acts is the effect it has on the voices of both. Mad Season is a demonstration in what happens when you get one of the most welcoming grunge voices in the scene into the same room as one of the most menacing. It is the least threatening recording Staley put out. The only chilling part of the harmonies of this performance is that both lead singers left this world too soon.
2. God Is In the Radio by Queens of the Stone Age-Songs For The Deaf
My guitar teacher, who passed on last year himself, once told me that the blues is practically made for the guitar. Mark Lanegan was practically made for two things; the blues and collaboration with other artists. Not only does he do such an amazing job. He brings out the best in his partners. In this case, he does it with fellow serial duet partner, Josh Homme. If you aren’t familiar with the latter’s vocal performances either, he is somehow cool, a bit high in pitch and dulcet while managing to be unsettling at the same time. The singalong verses over the fuzzed out bluesy guitar riff are as haunting as the harmonies of the chorus on this track. Music historians may have confined grunge to the 80s and 90s but there have still been bands for people who might still miss it. Queens of the Stone Age fits the bill nicely.
3. Come On Over (Turn Me On) by Isobell Campbell & Mark Lanegan-Sunday at Devil Dirt
With all these grunge references it’s hard to imagine anything by Mark Lanegan suitable for upscale romance. This song, however, would fit in better on the Goldfinger Soundtrack than a compilation of 80s/90s alt-rock headbangers. The strings, pianos and gentle drumming build a symphonic atmosphere that smells of sexual tensions. Lanegan’s three albums spanning collaboration with Scottish alternative pop singer, Isobell Campbell consists of songs that range from raunchy blues rock to eerily seductive ballads. This song is the latter. More than that, it is believable. If all I had to go with was the song, I’d get the idea that this hushed, perfectly audible performance was being delivered by a husband and wife. It would never occur to me that they were friends who got in the studio a few times, went on a few tours and professionally went their separate ways.
4. Cold Molly by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood-Black Pudding
Some artist do the same thing over and over and make it work. Others might play around with instruments, equipment and/or personnel while keeping their spirit more or less intact. Very few leave their roots behind entirely. Even fewer put out recordings that can’t be easily characterized. If it weren’t for the drum machines and hazey cool guitars, this song could be blues. If it weren’t for the measured, creepy pace, you could imagine it being the opening for a 90s crime show a la The Sopranos. The best I can do to explain this stage in Lanegan’s songwriting is for you to just listen to it.
5. Hard Time Killing Floor by Skip James covered by The Twilight Singers-She Loves You
Now for the one I appreciate the most. Grunge watchers might take umbrage with this being more important to me than a collaboration with the lead singer of Alice In Chains but here me out. If you came across Nirvana’s Nevermind for the first time, it does not take too much digging to learn about Alice In Chains. That is not the case for Greg Dulli, who collaborated with Mark Lanegan on projects like The Twilight Singers. They did not write this song. It is a very old blues standard and somehow, it still fits right in with the joint backgrounds of the two performers on this stellar cover. One extra reason that I especially love Lanegan’s Dulli collaborations is because of how this work served as a springboard towards a band that has done something phenomenal. I was familiar with Mark Lanegan’s Screaming Trees but had yet to find a band that mixed that with another genre I had been voraciously consuming at the time; 70s R’n’B. Enter the Afghan Whigs. Somehow Greg Dulli’s main band mixes 90s alt-rock with the trippy guitars and high vocals of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly Soundtrack, and it somehow works like a charm. This band would have taken a lot more time and effort to track down, especially since Spotify was a few years away and Pandora’s algorithm might not have been able to make the jump. This little tangent encapsulates why I have so much appreciate for the musician this post is paying tribute two; I broadened my horizons as a listener because of the variety of the man’s catalog.
Are these the only reasons to check out the works of a great, recently departed singer? Not by a longshot. This is merely a good starting point. I hope you enjoy hearing his works as much as I did the first time. Rest In Peace, Mark Lanegan.