It’s strange to hear how both parties’ sounds have progressed since Isobel Campbell left her former outfit, Belle & Sebastian. That band has moved away from the somber elegant folk of its early days and into a giant POP explosion, while Campbell continues to lilt along steadfast in twee pastoralisms. It’s refreshing to know that Campbell is still mindful of the path she’s trod previously, not ready to swap in her quiet and delicate sound for the sonic equivalent of Technicolor.
Most of the material on Milkwhite Sheets can trace its family tree back through Campbell’s excursions as The Gentle Waves to her B&S contributions, particularly Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant‘s “Beyond the Sunrise.” On that song — and in much of this album — there’s a fusion of dappled springtime folk melodies with the barren, dust-blown minimalism of prime country/western music. Take “Willow’s Song” for example. It’s one of the stronger tracks instrumentally, but the structure is still loosely fashioned with an array of sounds fleetingly meeting throughout. Overtop, Campbell’s hushed whisper breathes a beautiful melody. There’s something vista-like in the scope of the sound, like the sun breaking over mountains or a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood duet without Lee.
Campbell returns to more familiar dynamics on traditionals like “Reynardine” and “O Love is Teasin’,” where her voice and a simple finger-picked acoustic guitar complement the material so well they feel as timeless as the songs. This works in her favor as well, since “Cachel Woods” and “Beggar, Wiseman or Thief,” both new compositions, are all but indistinguishable from the ancient ballads. Her former outfit’s retro-isms are talking them back to the 1960s and ’70s, Isobel Campbell is doing the same, only 100 years earlier. Good stuff.
V2 Records: www.v2music.com