Blues Funeral
4AD 2012
Alain Johannes

1. The Gravedigger’s Song
2. Bleeding Muddy Water
3. Gray Goes Black
4. St. Louis Elegy
5. Riot in My House
6. Ode to Sad Disco
7. Phantasmagoria Blues
8. Quiver Syndrome
9. Harborview Hospital
10. Leviathan
11. Deep Black Vanishing Train
12. Tiny Grain of Truth

Mark Lanegan recasts soul on 'Blues Funeral'




While it’s never been as though Mark Lanegan has taken a breather, the gravelly voiced troubadour has definitely been under the radar lately. Yes, there have been appearances with bands, joint projects and occasional shows, but the world has been absent a new, full-length record by the singer for about eight years.

But as if on call, that has been rectified. Lanegan recently delivered Blues Funeral, his seventh solo record, and this stunning collection immediately throws itself into the discussion when chronicling the best albums of the year.

Indeed, starting with a one-two punch like this is certainly a convincing way to command attention. “The Gravedigger’s Song” kicks off Blues Funeral and plays like a meaner, more depressing update to 2004’s “Methamphetamine Blues,” swirling and scattered as the guitar sputters off alongside Lanegan’s traditionally gravelly tone.

A knockout blow comes just one song later. “Bleeding Muddy Water” is the centerpiece of this album, and arguably his most powerful song since 1994’s “Borracho.” Certainly, the two songs share a sort of epic glide, building and rolling masterfully to its cathartic conclusion. Here, as then, Lanegan starts the narrative slowly, letting momentum take him as the vocals rise in intensity.

That intensity is present throughout Blues Funeral, though smarty tempered and distributed throughout. As with his best work, the record rolls gracefully into its valleys, setting up its peaks, much the same way Lanegan himself trades off from his low rumble to a louder punch.

There are twists on rock and roll norms, of course. “Quiver Syndrome” sounds like a demented take on the scene the Dandy Warhols once celebrated. “Harborview Hospital” is a bizarre take on what might’ve been dreamy pop in another musican’s hands. “Ode to Sad Disco” is just that, a solemn tale hung curiously over club-ready beats. It’s all part of the practice: putting his own stamp on everything he touches.

Whether it’s bass-heavy riffs or desert rock guitars driving a song, the common thread is, still, Lanegan’s smokey voice. It’s given a number of his past albums an instant hook, including his records with Isobelle Campbell or his covers project I’ll Take Care of You, but it’s not just his distinct sound that turns all these recordings successful.

What ties all of these together is the incredible soul that Lanegan pours into his music, whether he’s working solo or in a band. Here, he’s bringing his years of experience to each song, stretching in the 1980s with Screaming Trees and several below-the-radar records since. In his own doom-laden way, Mark Lanegan is recasting the idea of the rugged, tortured bluesman, and doing so convincingly.

Perhaps, Blues Funeral is a wake for the cliched idea of the white blues singer bringing all of the surface and none of the soul to the music. Instead, Lanegan offers up all the tortured ideals of Howlin’ Wolf, set within his own broad sense of grace.

All those points — intensity, soul and grace — come together on the record’s highlight, “St. Louis Elegy.” Feelings of dread, hope, loss and devotion are toyed with and melded together with heavy doses of guitars, bass and his own signature stamp on the blues. In four minutes and 34 seconds, Lanegan makes his updated notion of soul a reality, casting away all doubt within a concise frame. Genres are thrown away. All that matters is the voice.

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