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Isobel Campbell - Milkwhite Sheets

Milkwhite Sheets, claims Isobel Campbell, is "an indulgent hobby record" recorded in downtime between sessions for Ballad of the Broken Seas her acclaimed collaboration with Mark Lanegan. Where that record took its cues from the earthy duets between Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, Milkwhite Sheets is firmly in the lineage of British folk music, with a collection of self-penned songs nestling besides some cornerstones of traditional song.

In a relatively short time frame Campbell's has sought influence from a broad range of sources; her releases both solo and as part of the Gentle Waves have taken in French and 60s pop, folk music, to a collection of Billie Holiday numbers. Milkwhite Sheets appears borne from her interest in Shirley Collins and Alan Lomax, and shares a kinship with her work with Backworld and Alasdair Roberts.

Milkwhite Sheets is filled with Campbell's hushed, breathy vocal and some beautiful guitarwork. Yet set against the stark arrangements Campbell's wispy voice is often exposed as being too light, too stretched to fully carry the melody. It's apparent on her renditions of 'O Love Is Teasin'', 'Reynardine' and 'Hori Horo' that carries through to the acapella delivery of 'Loving Hannah'. Sung straight like a live rendition in a folk club her breathy innocence is quite endearing. But the shrillness of her voice is a constant bugbear throughout Milkwhite Sheets and despite a number of captivating moments it's a problem she can't shake off. Her rendition of 'Willow's Song', the erotic ballad from The Wicker Man is sublime, though, with Campbell flitting between innocence and seduction. It's within the arrangements that Campbell sounds most comfortable, and the setting of guitar, dulcimer, whistle, percussion and cello marks this rendition of The Wicker Man standard as being one of my favourites. Another good moment is 'Are You Going To Leave Me', a track of dark psychedelic folk, with Campbell's voice hushed and layered over a dense rolling dirge. Even the eerie jangling of 'Thursday's Child' owing more to dark, dreamy indie-pop than folk music is another solid piece. Elsewhere 'Cachel Wood' boasts a gorgeous lilting melody almost like a mothers lullaby, and the nursery rhyme melody of 'Bird In The Hand' is pleasant enough. The real problem with Milkwhite Sheets is on the traditional songs, her faltering vocal delivery failing to capture the essence of the songs.

Those who came to Campbell via her Mercury nominated album may find that Milkwhite Sheet pales in comparision. Those, however, with a penchant for Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins and British female folk singers will find themselves in familiar company in the ache and yearing that Campbell brings to these tales of doomed love and faded romance. But be warned, as much as I enjoy this, Milkwhite Sheets is a frustratingly flawed release. For more information go to www.isobelcampbell.com