Usually when a singer goes off to do a solo project, it's either because of "creative differences" or a "need to express myself away from the band." In either case this can be translated as "I'm sick and tired of sharing credit with these bozos; I'm the real creative force in this band." All too often the result is a less-distinctive version of the band's albums made with studio hacks or a big-name producer (say, Don Was or Mitchell Froom). Mark Lanegan is different. His previous two solo albums were miles away from the Screaming Trees, revealing a sparse, thoughtful singer-songwriter under the angsty, Zeppelinesque screeds of his former band. The title of his new album, Field Songs, would lead you to believe that it will be even sparser than The Winding Sheet or Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. Surprisingly it's the lushest sounding of the three.
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That's not to say it's overproduced. At the center of each song stands Lanegan's rough-hewn composition and tundra-cool voice. The arrangements -- a well-placed treated guitar here, a tumbleweed mellotron there -- sonically echo the beautiful losers about whom Lanegan sings, displaced loners who know the "stars and skies are where they're supposed to be" but find themselves going the wrong way on a one-way street. He's at his best on hushed, quiescent ballads like "Kimiko's Dream House" or flinty atmospherics such as "Resurrection Song" or "Miracle." Field Songs has the worked-in comfort of an old pair of Levi's. Best listened to as the sun goes down with the first beer of the night cooling your hand, its creased, leathery charms feel earned.