First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
Milkwhite Sheets is the album that connects Isobel Campbell’s solo debut Amorino with Ballad of the Broken Seas, her collaboration with Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan. Temporarily shelving it in favor of the latter project, however, may have been a mistake. Throughout Milkwhite Sheets, Campbell fuses her own compositions with traditional British and Scottish folk songs, but although the outing has its moments, the absence of Lanegan serves only to magnify the collection’s defects.
What made Ballad of the Broken Seas work was the manner in which Lanegan’s dark and dour presence played against Campbell’s ethereal innocence, and the stylistic juxtaposition lent the material some much needed heft. Unfortunately, on Milkwhite Sheets, it is left entirely up to Campbell to carry the load, and she sometimes comes up short, especially in comparison with the long line of revivalists whom she is emulating — Sandy Denny, Nic Jones, Anne Briggs, and Shirley Collins, among them. Even worse, the outing too often suffers from the same stuffy sterility that plagued Sean-Nós Nua, Sinead O’Connor’s recent foray into traditional Irish fare.
Nevertheless, Campbell does manage to strike some astonishingly beautiful chords on Milkwhite Sheets, though curiously these tend to occur whenever she steps closest to the underlying elements of her former band Belle & Sebastian. The instrumental James, for example, is a pensive mixture of strings and congas that recalls the work of Nick Drake, and in combining her soft-spoken vocals with a gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment, she bends Hori Horo until it resembles Donovan’s quaint folk ruminations. The finest track on the affair, however, is the closing Thursday’s Child. While its arrangement hardly could be called extravagant, it is weightier than the rest of the endeavor, and as the disconcerting sound of her cello becomes entwined with the weepy guitar provided by former Smashing Pumpkins member James Iha, the song’s chilling sadness as well as its dreamlike yearning are significantly enhanced. The rest of Milkwhite Sheets could have benefitted from a similar approach, and in the end, its promise is only partially fulfilled.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box