Hawk, the third collaboration by Isobel Campbell (Belle & Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), cements their status as the Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra of this millennium. (Historical background: Saturnine songwriter Hazlewood and the winsome Sinatra recorded several fine, baroque-country-folk-pop duets in the mid-1960s.) Lanegan sings in a sonorous, slightly scratchy tone; Campbell is the sound of freshly lost innocence — high-pitched, dulcet, girlish, hushed.
While the duo's subject matter is a bit on the downcast side, Hawk never becomes a monochromatic or downer listening experience. Their pallet is rich and varied, including blues, country, folk, rock, gospel, old-school melodramatic pop elegance, and assorted combinations thereof. The spare, pensively paranoid "Come Undone" features striking sweet-and-sour vocal harmony and an overcast "Rainy Night in Georgia"-type ambiance. Campbell's sensuous cooing on the despairing "To Hell & Back Again" makes Hell seem like an appealing rest-stop on a romantic holiday. "Lately" has a sumptuous gospel chorus wailing behind Lanegan's laconic vocal, and the waltz-like "Eyes of Green" has tastefully grand overtones of Louisiana zydeco.
While this set is generally down-tempo there are a couple of rave-ups, such as the riotous title track. If glad-to-be-unhappy in a co-ed context is your cup of java, put Hawk on your menu. (Vanguard)