Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (Album Review)

Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (Album Review)

The hands of Mark Lanegan are never idle…but they may also still indeed be the Devil’s workshop. That in mind, his latest album, Straight Songs of Sorrow, is out Friday, May 8th through Heavenly Recordings.

On the heels of his recent memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep, penned with the same fresh ink, Straight Songs of Sorrow may not be the immediate companion to the book, but instead comes from the healthy headspace Lanegan found himself in. “I started writing these songs the minute I was done,” the former Screaming Trees vocalist mused, “and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book.

Furthermore, Lanegan had already been busy with the self-titled debut from UK outfit Humanist, as well as his own 2019 album Somebody’s Knocking. Both albums were a bit of an eclectic electronic departure for Lanegan, and that theme continues here with Straight Songs of Sorrow. Fifteen tracks in total, it beginning with the first muted hums of “I Wouldn’t Want to Say.” A good start, it is quickly drowned by fuzzy static, to the piped organ of “Eden Lost and Found” where there are few analog aspects to be found, other than the voice of Lanegan himself. 

There are also some brisk acoustic numbers, like “Apples from a Tree” and “Hanging On (For DRC),” as well as the rural spiritual “Daylight in the Nocturnal House” and the plucky, naked emotion of “Stockholm CIty Blues.” However, for the most part, the music keeps the odd cathodic style Lanegan has pursued of late. There is also “This Game Of Love” which is a lovely duet between Lanegan and his wife Shelley Brien, who also co-wrote later “Burying Ground” as well as the album’s closer, “Eden Lost And Found.”

Other guests abound on the album include Greg Dulli on “At Zero Below” who combined with Lanegan to form the Gutter Twins back in the mid-aughts. This is while Lamb of God stringsman Mark Morton makes an appears on “Apples from a Tree.”  Additionally, Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds, Adrian Utley of Portishead, and the legendary John Paul Jones, from a little band called Led Zeppelin, show up as well. That is not all though because even in spirit, friends appear. This is the case with Seattle-area Musician Dylan Carlson, whose initials adorn the title of “Hanging On (For DRC).” For this track the rambling lyrics and quietly picked acoustic guitar lean much more toward the shared friendship between the two than it does the output of Carlson’s main outfit, legendary Drone band Earth.

Simply put, this album covers the wide breadth of Lanegan’s work. Where “I Wouldn’t Want to Say” nods back to his 1994 debut solo album, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, tracks like would-be title track “Skeleton Key” and “At Zero Below” fall in line with some more recent output. This is while the aforementioned finale of “Eden Lost and Found” looks deeply into the future. One thing missing though, and perhaps by design, is the relative velocity of Somebody’s Knocking. Although, the songs here, in tune with their theme and enveloping album title, move at a pace much more deliberate than the rollicking numbers of Lanegan’s previous work. 

A solid collection of raw, refreshed work, Straight Songs of Sorrow covers a lot of ground. Lanegan casts a wide net to cover countless genres, guests, and themes, and it fits well with not only his total catalog but his brave foray into more electronic work as of late. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Straight Songs of Sorrow 4 out of 5 stars. 

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Adrian Breeman
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