10 May 2020

Alt-Blues Review: Mark Lanegan - Straight Songs of Sorrow

Release Date: May 8, 2020
Label: Heavenly

Mark Lanegan comes right out and says it, so don't say you weren't warned. These are Straight Songs of Sorrow. The deep lyrics riding upon guttural resonance evokes a cathartic empathy for the state of the world and the people inhabiting it which is nothing short of beautiful. It may not be the artist's desired effect, but after I put my headphones down, I feel a whole lot better about my own personal lot in life and the future of humankind. I suppose in this respect one could call this a blues album, but the blood mixed in makes it more purple. 

Founder of grunge pioneers and extremely underrated Screaming Trees, Lanagan rides the tailwind of his recent soul-bearing memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep. His book details the youthful search for "decadence, depravity, anything, everything." In it, Lanagan reveals the guilt he feels to this day about the death of his friend, Kurt Cobain. The vocals are reminiscent of classic blues singers yet bent with a blend of dark Iggy Pop mixed with Leonard Cohen, and infused with a twist of Nick Cave.

The distressed sonic texture strikes a chord from which the lyrics jump off and strike a nerve with tales of heartache and sorrow and warning signs of the hard road ahead. The album begins with Lanegan warning listeners not to take his advice. "Suddenly, everything I ever had is on ice. All those who tried to help me scattered like mice. No, I wouldn't want to say."

"Bleed All Over," the song with the most velocity in the collection, still reverberates with a vengeful sorry. "Don't you say it's over… I never wanted to… I'm a bleed all over." On "Skeleton Key," Lannegan laments, "I'm ugly inside and out… Love me, why would you ever love me? No one has ever loved me yet, pretty baby."

On Straight Songs of Sorrow, slow and soulful guitar travels on a gravel road of heavy bass and subdued drums. In the driver's seat, Lanegan couldn't care less what his passengers think. Unburdened by obligation and pretension, the artist is free to express his true self and travel wherever he wants. That is precisely what Lanegan has done, and we're all the wiser for coming along for the ride. 

- Tom Endyke | Guitar & Pen

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