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Music Review: Isobel Campbell – Milk White Sheets

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On her third album, former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell wanted to be more instinctive and intimate than what she’d done before. Add her indie credibility to the fact that she is hot off of her critically acclaimed duet album, Ballad Of The Broken Seas, with Mark Lanegan, Isobel can seemingly do no wrong, although on this latest effort, she sometimes seemingly abandons herself through a cappella solos and single instrumental acoustic accompaniment.

No female singer has a better voice suited to sing lullabies than Isobel. Songs like the 19th century ballads “Reynardine” and “Beggar, Wiseman Or Thief” have such an incredibly calming mood that you’d want to sleep to them, too. Isobel’s soothing voice, combined with the acoustic guitar, make a case for these songs to become bedtime routines for infants all across the country.

She goes a step further, losing the guitar altogether with the a cappella “Loving Hannah,” which she somehow manages to strip, layer after layer, until the only thing left is simple wonder. The kind where children dream about sailing on pirate ships and looking for buried treasure. The same kind of wonder causes parents to dream about their child growing up to be the next president of the United States.

Isobel’s efforts lean more toward traditional folk sounding melodies. In “Cachel Wood,” Isobel maintains her soft vocals and even enlists in a harmonica solo to boost her minimalist approach. Her opening track, “O Love Is Teasin’”, is tranquil; projecting a Tolkien environment where meadows stretch out as far as the eye can see and streams glisten and sparkle.

But there is always this lingering feeling of dread beneath her songs. The second track, “Willow’s Song”, is very earthy. Despite serene lyrics like “Would you have a wondrous sight/The midday sun at midnight,” Isobel’s own words like “animalistic” and “pagan” are more accurate in describing her otherworldly tune. No more so do these words fit more perfectly than for the enchanting, yet tense “Are You Going To Leave Me.” With haunting lyrics like “and I a poor girl dead and gone/and the green grass growing over me,” the song seems to be building and building for something, yet ends as mysteriously as it began.

This basket of dead flowers isn’t a surprise. Isobel’s Milk White Sheets is by design. "The guy who mastered my album usually works on death metal records," she says. "He said it sounds ‘satanic’! I was quite flattered…" Can serenity and tension coexist? Isobel says yes, and it’s perfectly suitable for nurseries.

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