Snug As A Bug In A Rug
Fresh off her stunning collaboration with ex-Screaming Trees/Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas, Isobel Campbell offers up her second post-Belle & Sebastian full-length solo album Milkwhite Sheets. Where Ballad ventured beyond straight folk into country, blues and soul, Milkwhite Sheets is perhaps best described as folk with a string section.Campbell repeatedly coos “My heart is yearning” just above a whisper on “Yearning,” and all that supports her honest utterance are a dancing pair of lightly plucked acoustic guitars, playing a three-note melody that almost seems afraid to move to anything else. “Cachel Wood” finds a strong, sparse backbone of finger-picked guitars offset only by a brief harmonica solo.
The title track and “James” are short and sweet instrumentals, the former led by a solemn cello and the latter clangy chords with pattering percussion and luminous strings. In an already understated album where increased listener attention on performance can be necessary, these pretty interludes are helpful and timely.
The strongest material here creeps in like a fog and grabs hold with angelic beauty. Campbell’s breathy voice sings, “I rode to church last Sunday / my true love passed me by / I knew her mind was a-changing / by the roving of her eyes,” in a rolling a capella melody on “Loving Hannah.” “Reynardine” is soothing and comforting merely through dueling acoustic twang, and “Beggar, Wiseman or Thief” tells of lovelorn pursuit and rejection in a fashion fitting an olde tyme minstrel.
Milkwhite Sheets requires close investigation. Unlike other singer-songwriter/efforts, this album is the opposite of showy. Understated and patient, there’s much beauty to be found that grows over time.