first appeared in The Glass Onion, 3 Feb. 1994

Mark Lanegan

Whiskey for the Holy Ghost

by Evan Sult

Many years of broken promises have finally culminated in Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, Mark Lanegan's much-desired second solo album. A few years ago, Lanegan surprised everyone by picking up an acoustic guitar, pulling in some chips and recording The Winding Sheet, a dark and smoky album that combined his quietest moments with the lowest notes any human being this side of Tom Waits could manage. Whiskey for the Holy Ghost is a return to that same bar after a closing sentiment, stripped down even further and filled with the same sense of brooding grace that stained his first solo project.

What makes Lanegan intriguing is the fact that he's a rock and roll redneck whom no one can picture penning a touchingly poignant descant while simultaneously gnawing a thick wedge. Lanegan is unapologetically rugged, painfully honest and touchingly delicate, all without compromising the overriding presence of his personality. While his body of work with The Screaming Trees remains vibrant and cathartic, it's Lanegan's solo work that seems the most revealing.

Whiskey for the Holy Ghost isn't as complete an album as The Winding Sheet, but each song is crafted with the same rawboned beauty and insight. "Sunrise," "Borracho," and "Judas Touch" all succeed in capturing the melancholia of the day after, replete with self-deprecation and painfully honest lyrics. The whole album is tinged with the smell of cigarettes and the frankness of a chipped glass ashtray. If nicotine steals Mark Lanegan's vocal cords (something that sounds almost inevitable, as one charts his vocals dropping through the registers over the years), at least it gave him something, too.