Mark Lanegan’s first solo album, 1990’s The Winding Sheet, was a darker, quieter, and more emotionally troubling affair than what fans were accustomed to from his work as lead singer with the Screaming Trees. The follow-up album, 1994’s Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, used The Winding Sheet’s sound and style as a starting point, with Lanegan and producer/instrumentalist Mike Johnson constructing resonant but low-key instrumental backdrops for the singer’s tales of heartbreak, alcohol, and dashed hopes.
While The Winding Sheet often sounded inspired but tentative, like the solo project from a member of an established band, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost speaks with a quiet but steely confidence of an artist emerging with his own distinct vision. The songs are more literate and better realized than on the debut, the arrangements are subtle and supportive (often eschewing electric guitars for keyboards and acoustic instruments), and Lanegan’s voice, bathed in bourbon and nicotine, transforms the deep sorrow of the country blues (a clear inspiration for this music) into something new, compelling, and entirely his own. Whiskey for the Holy Ghost made it clear that Mark Lanegan had truly arrived as a solo artist, and it ranks alongside American Music Club’s Everclear as one of the best “dark night of the soul” albums of the 1990s.