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Isobel Campbell - Milkwhite Sheets

Isobel Campbell, Milkwhite Sheets

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT’S been something of a prolific year for Scottish chanteuse Isobel Campbell, the ex-Belle & Sebastian member, who is forging a useful solo career of her album.

Earlier this year, she put out Ballad of the Broken Seas, her collaboration with American blues singer Mark Lanegan, for which she promptly received a Mercury Music nomination.

The dust has barely settled on the acclaim surrounding that release but now she’s back with another album in the form of the altogether different Milkwhite Sheets.

Featuring a selection of traditional and self-penned songs, the album is a deliberately low-key affair of acoustic psychedelic folk inspired by the likes of Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, Devendra Banhart and Espers.

At times breathtaking in its intricate beauty, the album is another that showcases Campbell’s achingly bittersweet voice – sometimes with nothing more than a lone acoustic guitar, cello or violin to accompany it.

Those expecting the breezy melodic style of her Belle & Sebastian days may be disappointed, for this is extremely laidback (sometimes to the point of being horizontal) and borderline melancholic.

But for those following her solo career, it represents another fascinating chapter that, at the very least, succeeds in providing a wonderful piece of chillout on a wintery Sunday evening.

On tracks like Hori Horo, her dainty voice is both child-like and haunting, drifting across a traditional folk musical backdrop supplied by the acoustic guitars, while there’s an achingly sweet quality to her vocals on Cachel Wood that ease into the harmonica solo.

Perhaps most striking, however, is her lone voice on the sombre Loving Hannah, a track that provokes images of a mother singing her child to sleep, or serenading a lover on a windswept moor.

Elsewhere, the instrumental James, with its cinematic strings, low-key drums and tender acoustic guitar licks, succeeds in putting forth a shimmering piece of music that eases you into a relaxed state of mind – while serving as a beautiful contrast to the more brooding title track and its cello.

As previously mentioned, Milkwhite Sheets won’t appeal to every taste and is certainly a deeply chilled, folk-heavy experience that places one woman’s voice above any flashy production excesses.

But in terms of ambition, it cannot be faulted and there are plenty of rewards for the patient listener. Don’t bet against Campbell figuring among next year’s Mercury nominations once again.

Track listing:

  1. O Love Is Teasin’
  2. Willows Song
  3. Yearning
  4. James
  5. Hori Horo
  6. Reynardine
  7. Milkwhite Sheets
  8. Cachel Wood
  9. Beggar Wiseman Or Thief
  10. Loving Hannah
  11. Are You Going To Leave Me
  12. Over The Wheat And The Barley
  13. Thursday’s Child