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Mark Lanegan
Has God Seen My Shadow? An Anthology 1989–2011 Cian Traynor , February 4th, 2014 08:39

In sampling the prolific career of one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in American music, Has God Seen My Shadow? does not offer itself as a comprehensive overview. Nor does it pretend to be a variety showcase. Instead it aims for the consistent, narrowing its focus on the quintessential character of Lanegan's music: the deep-voiced, muscular presence behind those dark dirges of melancholy and despair.

The first disc of Has God Seen My Shadow? draws from Lanegan's six solo albums, from 1990's The Winding Sheet to 2004's Bubblegum, while the second assembles 12 unreleased tracks made up of outtakes, covers and live recordings. It's packaged both as vinyl box-set with three LPs and as a double CD set with a gatefold, both accompanied by a book of handwritten lyrics and rare photos.

But it's worth nothing that this collection leaves out some of Lanegan's finest work. There are guest appearances by PJ Harvey, Josh Homme, and J Mascis but no place for the singer's collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell or the Gutter Twins. Likewise, cutting the collection off at 2011 misses out on Lanegan's superb form since then: 2012's Blues Funeral, a career highlight, 2013's Black Pudding, his collaborative album with multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, and Imitations, an uneven but worthwhile album of cover songs remembered from his childhood. Though there is variation in terms of songwriting nuance and instrumental styles – the hint of bluegrass on 'Shiloh Town', the grunge-like 'Mockingbirds' and the barroom jazz feel of 'Sunrise' – the volume of languid introspection struggles to sustain an engaging momentum. Occasionally there are pedestrian moments, as on the drifting 'Pill Hill Serenade', where the vitality dims and the sombre tone can feel wearing, so taking it all in is best staggered over several listens.

To Lanegan's credit, however, the morose never becomes melodramatic. His gravelly voice expertly adjusts to different levels of intensity throughout, while the gravitas propelling it underlines just how much of his persona contributed to the Screaming Trees, the influential Seattle band he fronted for 15 years. The steely composure on 'One Hundred Days', the wistful air to Leaving Trains' 'Creeping Coastline of Lights' and the half-spoken, hypnotic 'Lexington Slow Down' capture Lanegan at what he does best. Taken together, it serves as a focused introduction that, despite its omissions, encapsulates the dark, poetic vision Lanegan has been channelling so assuredly for decades.