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
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.
1. O Love is Teasin'
2. Willow's Song
5. Hori Horo
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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