ISOBEL CAMPBELL performing as part of Canadian Music Week 2006, at Revival (783 College), March 4. 7 pm. $12. 416-535-7888. www.cmw.net Rating: NNNNN
Just days before singer/song writer Isobel Campbell arrives in town for a highly anticipated Canadian Music Week showcase where she'll preview songs from her forthcoming disc, Ballad Of The Broken Seas (V2), her former bandmates in Belle & Sebastian will be showing off their own new songs from The Life Pursuit (Matador) at the Docks.
But that's no great concern to Campbell, who left the Glasgow gang to pursue projects of her own like Gentle Waves. She hasn't even bothered to check if ex-Belle beau Stuart Murdoch has written any songs about her for the new album.
"I've only heard that one song, what's it called, Dress Up In You?" says Campbell from her Glasgow home. "That was quite nice, but I haven't had time to brush my hair, never mind going out to buy records. I suppose if I went over to the office, they'd give me a copy, but I've been busy just trying to get my washing done."
Campbell's also been busy in the studio this past year, recording an as yet unreleased folk album, Milkwhite Sheets, and notably collaborating with former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan on Ballad Of The Broken Seas.
Even though Lanegan rarely sings above a whisper, his deep, booming voice completely dominates every song he appears on. In fact, Lanegan's presence is so powerful on the recording - which Campbell produced with a Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra concept in mind - that if you didn't see Campbell's top billing on the sleeve, you'd swear it was a Mark Lanegan solo album with Campbell lending her gossamer light vocalizations as support.
That makes much more sense once you know how the unlikely joint effort came about.
"It was actually Mark's idea to do the album. I'd written a song that I was trying to do with (former Vaselines mainman) Eugene Kelly, but it was in the wrong key for him and wasn't working out. My then-boyfriend said he knew just the man for the job and played me one of Mark's songs. I'd never heard of him or the Screaming Trees before, but his voice sounded incredible so I sent this half-written song to him through his record label.
"A short time later he called me up and sang his part over the phone - and it was perfect. He wrote me an e-mail saying that instead of just doing the one song, 'we could make a beautiful album together.' I wrote back to say, 'I think we could make a classic record that's timeless,' which is how it all started."
The fact that much of the communication surrounding this project occurred through e-mail is telling in itself. While Campbell's folk narratives are beautifully crafted and thoughtfully arranged for maximum moody impact, there's a disconnect between Lanegan's voice and hers. There's no sense of tension or "chemistry" between the singers, which is typically what makes for successful male-female duet pairings.
So it should come as no great shock to learn that Lanegan and Campbell weren't even in the same city when they recorded their vocal parts and didn't spend any time hanging out.
"I'm not really a hang-out sort of person. To be honest, I'm fairly anti-social. It's true we recorded the whole thing apart. There was only one time we were in the studio at the same time, in Los Angeles, because Mark wanted to redo some of his parts. I don't know if singing together would've made for a better album. I'm happy with the results, so anything else would be speculative."
What's even more intriguing is that Lanegan and Campbell have still never actually sung together, let alone performed together, and there are no plans for that to happen any time soon. Kelly will be singing Lanegan's parts on the Ballad Of The Broken Seas material for the current tour.
"I'd love to sing with Mark someday, but I don't know if we ever will - at least not on this tour. I sent him a letter last week asking him about it, but I don't think it's going to happen. It's is a shame, but I had to get on with it.
"At first I thought it could be difficult doing these songs with Eugene. But the first time we rehearsed, everything sounded really good, so there was no problem at all. Although his voice doesn't have Mark's gritty quality, it's still quite rich, and having Eugene around helps me relax."