releases what she describes as a “low-key” acoustic album entitled Milkwhite Sheets on November 6th on V2. This follows the critically acclaimed Nationwide Mercury Prize short-listed “Ballad Of The Broken Seas” which she recorded with US singer Mark Lanegan.
“Mark and I were interviewed together recently, in anticipation of the Mercury Awards, and he was asked what drew him to collaborate with me,” remembers Isobel Campbell, of Lanegan, “He said that there’s a darkness to my songs that he loves. The music I love has always had to have an ‘edge’. If something’s slick and bland, I’m not interested.”
That darkness profoundly haunted Ballad…, a menace conjured by the contrast between Lanegan’s wounded, scabbed howl – the voice of a man who’s lived long, hard years on the road with the Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stoneage – and Campbell’s chilling, tender folk vocal.
Her third album, Milkwhite Sheets finds Isobel singing by herself this time – and, for the charming ‘Loving Hannah’, with no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever. The darkness, however, lingers. “The guy who mastered my album usually works on death metal records,” she says. “He said it sounds ‘satanic’! I was quite flattered…”
Conceived and recorded in tandem and shortly after Ballad… (“Mark took some time to work on his vocals, so I had all this time to play with,” says Isobel), Milkwhite Sheets is a piercingly beautiful set of traditional songs and originals, surface tranquil, with turbulence underneath. More intimate, more deftly twisted than Ballad…, it draws on broader and more personal influences.
“When we started Ballad…, I wasn’t really that knowledgeable about folk music,” Isobel explains. “There’s so much folk music I can’t listen to, the stuff that’s more arran sweaters and drinking ale than anything else. But while making these albums, I immersed myself in the folk music that captivated me, listening to the Harry Smith Anthology Of Folk Music over and over… Natural, earthy songs that belong to the people. Folk music’s like the original ‘punk’; it’s the heart and soul of folk music that I love. It’s very D.I.Y.”
Isobel describes Milkwhite Sheets – an album heavy with seductive mystery – as “ ‘feminine’, animalistic and pagan”. She cites ‘outsider’ folk singers like Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, and Kentucky-based singer and dulcimer player Jean Ritchie as particular influences; she was introduced to the music of Collins by David Tibet, of apocalyptic avant-folk veterans Current 93, with whom she has played. “These women really inspired me,” she says. “ They were completely unique.”
These songs are “psychedelic lullabies”, referencing the resurgent psychedelic folk ‘scene’ of acts like Six Organs Of Admittance, Espers and Devendra Banhart. Milkwhite Sheets proves a similarly refreshing juxtaposition of the ancient, traditional folk arts and the more abrasive, experimental elements of modern avant-rock, as these kindred spirits’ work.
This is a beautiful, brave, subtly subversive record; calm on the surface, torrential beneath. “It’s not an album that’s trying to ‘court’ anyone, it’s to be taken on its own terms,” she shrugs. “’Loving Hannah’ was inspired by listening to unaccompanied singing. There’s no grandness to that music, it sounds so defiant. It just shows, if you don’t have money to embellish a song, it can still sound amazing.”
It’s that very spirit that animates this special album, Isobel singing softly, over hushed instrumentation, yet still moving mountains. A record that will give you pleasant pause; an artist who can’t seem to sit still, she’s got so many ideas to pursue.
“It’s been lovely, who wouldn’t want to be recognised for what they do?” she says, of the reception Ballad Of The Broken Seas has enjoyed. “But it’s not ever been my reason for doing the things I do. I just want to keep making the music that I want… If I ever want to do a death metal record, something with people screaming all over it, I will do!”
Isobel found her initial fame playing cello and singing with deftly-melodic Glaswegian indie collective Belle & Sebastian, before branching off for the lushly-orchestrated melancholia of her Gentle Waves for two LPs, and releasing her debut solo album, the acclaimed Amorino in 2003.
The CD features a ‘hidden’ track….
Tracklisting goes like this:
O Love Is Teasin' (Traditional / Arranged Campbell)
Willow's Song (Paul Giovanni / Arranged Campbell)
Hori Horo (Traditional / Arranged Campbell)
Reynardine (Traditional / Arranged Campbell)
Milkwhite Sheets (McCulloch)
Cachel Wood (Campbell)
Beggar, Wiseman Or Thief (Campbell)
Loving Hannah (Traditional / Arranged Campbell)
Are You Going To Leave Me? (Traditional / Arranged Campbell)
Over The Wheat & The Barley (Campbell)
Thursday's Child (Campbell)
Bird In The Wood (CD Hidden Track)(Campbell)