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Isobel Campbell
Milkwhite Sheets
V2 Records

Now that Belle & Sebastian are bona fide indie rock royalty, having had a band named after one of their songs (the interesting Stars Of Track And Field), it's nice to see one of their alums making a career for herself and producing even better music than she did with her old group. Milkwhite Sheets is an album of covers and originals inspired by legends of British folk such as Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs and Jean Ritchie.

Now, I have a great love for those influences, so I approached this record with a certain amount of trepidation. Isobel Campbell won me over fast, though; her singing and compositions, added to her sensitive interpretations of the traditional songs, almost put her into that exalted company. She doesn't quite have the vocal power and purity of Collins or Briggs (both of whom you should check out right away if you like this record), but she easily makes up for it with her songwriting talent and the way she personalizes the non-originals.

The album starts off with two fine cover choices. "O Love Is Teasin'" (made famous by Shirley Collins as "Love Is Pleasin'") is a sad, sad song about losing everything for a fleeting love, while the haunting "Willow's Song", from the great original version of the movie The Wicker Man, is personalized to great effect. Doves also did a fine version of this song on a B-side a couple of years ago; Isobel's version has some nice clanking banjo and muted, pounding drums, with vocals mixed low to add to the mysterious effect.

Then it's a mix of Campbell's own compositions and well chosen traditional tunes such as "Reynardine" (one of the best known English folk tunes, both Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins did wonderful versions of this) and the fantastic "Loving Hannah", which Campbell sings completely unaccompanied and sounds as if she's breathing right into your ear. Campbell's instrumental "James" is a particular standout - it's a dead ringer for one of James Kirby's great string arrangements on the first two Nick Drake albums.

Milkwhite Sheets is beautiful listening for an early morning or a late night, either alone and melancholy or curled up with a loved one.

-Gareth Bowles

Track listing:
1. O Love is Teasin'
2. Willow's 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 & the Barley
13. Thursday's Child
14. Bird in the Wood

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