*Originally published for Artrocker (29/4/13)
Few musicians have enjoyed such a varied career as Mark Lanegan. Initially the frontman of Washington grungers Screaming Trees, Lanegan has since worked with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Isobel Campbell and Queens Of The Stone Age. His new collaboration with rootsy multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood comes as little surprise then for a singer comfortable lending his baritone to all types of music.
Title track 'Black Pudding' is stark and stunning: a Spanish guitar cascades unaccompanied, plucked tenderly by Garwood, speaking volumes without lyrics. 'Pentacoastal' barely lets the opener rest, with a blues guitar biting at Lanegan's trademark oak vocals. The hot and heavy melody seeps right into your pores and refuses to leave.
There isn't too much of the experimentation expected of the collaboration until further into the record. 'Sphinx' and 'Mescalito' are the initial purveyors with billowing classical guitars, drones, jittering sitars and box beats - the latter track a definite highlight of the record. Imagine picking out all the characterisations of a blues track but making it about a hundred times better. That's right, hip-hop rhythms slamming on bottleneck guitar slides, sitars humming to looped melodies and drones pulling the track's sludge and drudge. It's mightily impressive.
Another stand-out track is the unassuming, 'Driver', a seven-bar blues track awash with 90s phaser pedals and rasping vocals. It's simple, infectious but also rather inventive.
The world sounds like it's about to implode on 'Thank You' and there's little indication of how this effect is achieved. Maybe it's the detuned piano, maybe it's the rotting strings, but whatever it is, it sounds at once awful and at once amazing.
Lanegan's vocal style is what many would regard as 'traditional' or 'proper' or maybe how your granddad sings - a gentle vibrato on each cadence, each note executed like there is no opportunity for a redo. It's remarkably deep and at times sinister but it doesn't lose you in its darkness.
'Cold Molly' sounds like the beginning of 'Superstition' with a funky clavinet sound. It may well be impossible to sit still whilst listening to it (we've got funk and soul here, people!) but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not even the fun and angry brass notes can save it.
Country, blues and Celtic music come together succinctly on 'Death Is A White Horse', and the nodding riff of 'Shades Of The Sun' is so damn catchy that you swear you'd once mastered it in a guitar lesson.
Although no track on Black Pudding weds Lanegan and Darwood's writing more naturally than 'Mescalito', the record is consistently strong, best digested slowly during a quiet afternoon. For the time being, let's hope no one steals either musician for other collaborations.