For Mark Lanegan, collaboration is just as central to his artistic identity as solo work. Since releasing his debut full-length, The Winding Sheet, in 1990 (back when his band the Screaming Trees were still active), the cult figure has produced a string of albums that document his dark and introspective fusion of hard rock, folk music, blues, electronica and even cabaret. Bubblegum, from 2004, is a particular highlight. It also happens to be one of the best rock albums of the early '00s. Another standout is I'll Take Care of You, his first all-covers effort, in which he deftly tackles compositions from composers as diverse as '60s folkie Tim Hardin, Southern soul legend O.V. Wright and The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
Yet it's not uncommon for years to pass between solo records. This has to do with the myriad side projects Lanegan has also juggled over the last two decades. Maybe most famous are his occasional singing and songwriting duties for Queens of the Stone Age. His contributions were key in the making of the group's most successful album to date, 2002's [Songs for the Deaf]. Significantly more eccentric is his trio of albums with indie pop chanteuse Isobel Campbell (of Belle & Sebastian fame). All three -- Ballad of the Broken Seas, [Sunday at Devil Dirt] and Hawk -- are moody forays into baroque-informed folk rock and country. [Black Pudding], meanwhile, is Lanegan's recent collaboration with English guitarist Duke Garwood. One of the most experimental titles in the singer's maze-like discography, it captures a unique brand of folk, one that builds bridges between American blues, Middle Eastern drone and art rock.
The chances are good that Lanegan will forever remain a cult figure, but make no mistake about it: His is a major voice in American rock. Like Jim Morrison and Jeffrey Lee Pierce before him, he manages to create modern music that feels haunted by something as ancient as the earth he walks upon.