After coming into his own as a solo artist with 1994's wistfully sad and musically assured Whiskey for the Holy Ghost
, ex-Screaming Trees
vocalist Mark Lanegan has let his work stagnate somewhat. Scraps at Midnight
and the cover-song collection I'll Take Care of You
were both excellent efforts, but lacked the punch of Whiskey
, which suggested that a new voice was emerging from the ashes of an overlooked band's lamentable demise. This fifth solo effort, however, shows flashes of another growth spurt. Lanegan has never written anything as gentle and compositionally mature as "Kimiko's Dream House," for instance, nor has any of his records ever had this level of consistency, from bourbon-soaked blues to haunted, late-night roots rock. Furthermore, his band, featuring ex-Dinosaur Jr.
member Mike Johnson on guitar and Ben Shepherd from the late, great Soundgarden
on bass, has solidified, effortlessly veering between eerie soundscapes and somber evocations that form perfect backdrops for Lanegan's familiar smoky growl. Next time you feel like having a late-night chat with a friend named Jack Daniels, let this play in the background as a conversation starter, then draw your own conclusions about how affecting and perceptive Lanegan's work has become. --Matthew Cooke