Album of the Week 01-2013: Mark Lanegan – Field Songs

Despite my strong dislike of the singer-songwriter paradigm, being able to see Mark Lanegan only backed by an acoustic guitar – thank you, Bas! – was one of the most impressive musical experiences I have had last year. Enchanted by his gravelly voice – which sounds like Chris Rea after a night of heavy drinking and smoking – I was hanging on to every word he sang. That’s what makes Lanegan different: his cigarettes and whiskey drenched vocals add a great deal of credibility to the lyrics about the hardships of life. He gets under your skin, the voice cuts through your soul.

‘Field Songs’ was the best represented album at the performance, despite not being the most recent. The choice was obvious, however: the album’s restrained, low key tones translate perfectly to acoustic interpretations. However, ‘Field Songs’ isn’t a meandering album with very little dynamics. Most of the album is acoustic based and there’s nothing even vaguely resembling the scale of the larger-than-life, Led Zeppelin translated to 1990’s Seattle sound of the second half of Screaming Trees’ discography, but it’s remarkable how varied the album is. At least half of the album has a distinct Blues vibe, which isn’t all that strange, considering the lyrical content.

Opening track ‘One Way Street’ does a perfect job of setting a subdued, desolate mood for ‘Field Songs’. The accompanying acoustic guitars are in their turn backed by distorted, psychedelic sound effects, adding a certain uneasiness to the music. The psychedelic edges are heard throughout the album, most notably in the instrumental soundscape ‘Blues For D’, the short Blues of ‘Field Song’ and the moving and hypnotizing masterpieces that are ‘Miracle’ and closing track ‘Fix’. ‘Don’t Forget Me’ sounds like something Alice In Chains could have done during their amazing MTV Unplugged session. That killer bassline is nothing to be ashamed of either! The Indian-tinged ‘No Easy Action’ is probably the hardest rocking moment of the album and as such is one of the highlights, with Lanegan battling the powerful chants of Wendy Rae Fowler. Of the acoustic songs, I consider the simple, but painfully effective ‘Resurrection Song’ and the somewhat lighter ‘Low’ the highlights.

Lanegan’s backing musicians on ‘Field Songs’ are all tailor made for these recordings. The most amazing thing is that despite the presence of a couple of big names – Duff McKagan and Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd probably being the biggest – nobody gets in the way of the music. It’s always a risk when you’re recording songs that are so toned down; as soon as you get an overambitious musician on board, he’ll try and put his stamp on the music. All the musicians involved with ‘Field Songs’ have been extremely serviceable to the music; no one is bigger than the songs. Not even Lanegan himself.

This is not an album to play at a summer barbecue to enhance the good mood. This is a diary of a struggling man, which is what Lanegan’s consistently amazing output both solo and with Screaming Trees has always been. But when Lanegan sings about life’s hardships, you believe him and you feel them with him. That’s as powerful as music is going to get.

Recommended tracks: ‘Miracle’, ‘Fix’, ‘Don’t Forget Me’, ‘One Way Street’

    • Bas
    • January 7th, 2013

    Haha, you’re welcome 😉

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