Eternally girlish chanteuse Isobel Campbell has fully embraced the legacy of folk music in her second solo album, Milkwhite Sheets. Artfully arranged traditional songs intertwine with like-minded new tracks to form a beautifully lonely album full of melancholic strings, delicate guitar picking and Campbell’s haunting voice.
Unlike 2006’s Ballad of the Broken Seas project with Mark Lanegan, no song on Campbell’s latest album has the bluesy feel of a good bar song; Milkwhite Sheets would fit far better as background music in some rural, mom-and-pop craft store. These are truly lovely songs, homespun and fragile; it’s as if they might break if played too loudly.
With Campbell’s soothing, child-like voice, her versions of traditional songs like “Reynardine” and “Loving Hannah” call to mind nursery rhymes or lullabies. Campbell seems committed to breathing new life into such disappearing songs as well as upholding their story-telling tradition in her own compositions “Catchel Wood” and “Beggar, Wiseman or Thief”.
Instrumental tracks “Willow’s Song” and the brief title track, “Milkwhite Sheets”, both new songs by composers other than Campbell, stand out as album highlights on their own. Campbell herself has described Milkwhite Sheets as “feminine, animalistic and pagan”, and these tracks in particular conjure images of a lush fairy tale woodland populated by the nubile, waif-like Campbell and other secretive, enchanted creatures. With strings, bongo drums, her cello and a harp, Campbell paints this ethereal world so completely that listening to Milkwhite Sheets in its entirety is nearly enough to make one forget about her indie pop background.
Isobel Campbell has retreated into the fog of Scotland’s roots with Milkwhite Sheets, uniting her passion for folk music with her own musical abilities. She hasn’t done much updating or revising here, and the album consequently retains a clean purity of sound. Yet she has brought traditional music out for the discernment of a wider audience—even those who might typically dismiss such music as irrelevant or boring are likely to be seduced by the breathless mystery of Milkwhite Sheets.
– Mary Mulholland