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Isobel Campbell - Milk White Sheets Review

by Dan MacIntosh

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You could hand over this new Isobel Campbell CD to some snooty folk music expert and even he might guess it to be the authentic, old English, real deal. Campbell never rocks out; instead, she mostly floats vocals over gently finger-picked acoustic guitar and mournful cello. All the while this woman's wisp of a voice is perfectly pitched, yet somehow still authoritative. Although technically not alternative music, "Milk White Sheets" is unlike anything you will hear on any contemporary radio station.

These thirteen tracks are roughly half traditional covers, half Campbell originals. A few are straight out instrumentals, such as "Over the Wheat and the Barley," which is one of Campbell's compositions. These dusted off old-sters, exemplified by "Hori Horo" and "Reynardine," may even prompt diehard rockers to temporarily lay down amplified axes in order to investigate a little time-tested folk music. Yep, it's that good. One Campbell original, "Cachel Wood," features a melody similar to the children's song "Pop Goes the Weasel" and is colored by a harmonica solo.

This project's liner notes include a few helpful lyrical hints for those not yet steeped in ye old English folk traditions. The track title "Hori Horo," for instance, is a Scottish term used to indicate sorrow. Another one, "Beggar, Wiseman or Thief," is about falling in love with a wolf, of all things. It was inspired by "The Other Side," an old story Eric Stanislaus Stenbock wrote. He was best known for penning macabre, fantastic fiction. But Campbell even makes him sound soft and sweet.

In the past, Isobel Campbell has touched upon country music (in collaboration with Mark Lanegan) and spent time performing fey pop with Belle & Sebastian. Still it is hard to believe she has listened to anyone other than strict folk stylists like Jean Ritchie, Anne Briggs, and Shirley Collins. She is either mature for her age or an incredible chameleon. Yet she does more than just change colors to suit her various stylistic whims; Campbell inhabits these choices the way a great actress steps into a new role. And just like a Merchant Ivory production, Campbell draws inspiration from history and presents her work with modern technical perfection.


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Isobel Campbell - Milk White Sheets

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