Mark Lanegan may be the best vocalist in the world being possessed of a distinct, mighty, gravelly voice. He's spent the past 20 years learning how to use it in the studio and the hard life he's lived enters the vocal booth with him. You don't just hear him, you feel it when it sings as there is a resonance and authority in his voice telling tales many of us fear to hear. He's our embedded correspondent on the front lines and the dark alleys.
He's more than the voice of doom but can sing the songs of the damned and make us face the sound of the toll this world can take. You take notice when he sings a line such as "the stars and the moon aren't where they're supposed to be" as he did on "One Way Street" from Field Songs because his voice makes you believe it. His is a voice that doesn't suffer fools lightly, the sound of a man who doesn't have time for ephemera and silliness. It's the voice of terminal weariness, the sound of ticking clock just before the alarm bells ring. He only stands behind that microphone when it's important, closing his eyes and releasing a torrent of truth to flood our ears and minds. That may sound humorless and dour, but we can take refuge in the man and his dark ministry, hearing an empathy that comes from the sound of someone who identifies with our pain as the hour grows late.
Black Pudding pairs that voice with Duke Garwood, who plays nearly every instrument on the record. He creates a spare and desolate aural palette with sonic allusions to the famous Ennio Morricone film scores as well as some of the futuristic folk records Beck made with Nigel Godrich.
Most songs are built around a simple acoustic guitar figure adorned by sonic accoutrements often creating an off-kilter, uneasy feeling for Lanegan's weathered voice to tether. A pair of Garwood instrumentals bookend the album and the first vocal track, the fire-and-brimstone "Pentecostal," sets the tone for what is to come.
"Mescalito" is the song that resembles some of Beck's more interesting acoustic-electronic hybrids, rustic sounds from a futuristic Southwest. Where the brilliant, quirky Beck would toss out gibberish phrases and non-sequiturs, Lanegan provides bleak poetry of a journey to a place with "words written on a page/a pound of coffin nails" and "where losing is contagious/I'm tied down to the rails."
"Shade Of The Sun" is the most Morricone-esque track in sound and delivery. Even it's title evokes the classic Clint Eastwood Westerns. "Thank You" feels more like a Lanegan a cappella with random tones in the background than an actual song but a powerful vocal and barren imagery are all the gravity needed to bind this meditation
you ever seen it rain so hard
that you know the sky is bleeding?
no redemption in the cards
not only love can break your heart
When Lanegan sings it, you do.