Isobell Campbell – Amarino and Milkwhite Sheets re-issues: Album Review

Two Isobell Campbell re-issues from Cooking Vinyl may musically be a million miles away from each other but on the back of the exceptional  There Is No Other,  give us a deeper understanding of her expertise and versatility.

Release date: 20th November 2020

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Format:  CD / Vinyl

Amarino, originally released in 2003, could easily be mistaken as a release from 1966. In collaboration with Bill Wells, the diverse sounds of trad jazz, European continental chic, Latin bossa nova rhythms and brief Beatle style Asian strings give this album, blended with Isobell’s intimate voice,  a distinct ’60s flavour. Without sounding dated this quirky and entertaining re-release still retains a freshness that some actual ’60s releases don’t.

The catchy rhythms of  Monologue For An Old True Love will get you searching for your dancing shoes. There are songs aplenty like October’s Sky, with its sleazy horn and Johnny Come, which will harken you back to those Girl From Ipanema type songs that provided refreshing melodies and sometimes crept into the 60’s hit parade (now there’s a 60’s forgotten term pop pickers!!).

The instrumentals such as the harmonica based Does It Hurt So and the lilting piano of October Sky, are reminiscent of many a film soundtrack. In another contrast on the final track, Time Is Just The Same, Isobell duets in soft country style.  In the ’60s this album may have sneaked into the Easy Listening racks but now that would do the writing and production a disservice.

Milkwhite Sheets is a different kettle of fish altogether in sound but still inspired by classic artists albeit this time from the folk world. When Isobel chooses to apply her extensive musical talents, as she did with her version of Tom Petty’s Running Down A Dream on her most recent release, There Is No Other (reviewed here) she does so with aplomb and ultimate respect.

Milkwhite Sheets couldn’t offer a greater contrast but the level of entertainment and quality of performance is just as high. From Amorino’s bigger production to a minimalist sound, Milkwhite Sheets offers sometimes no more than vocal accompaniment and acoustic guitar. Sometimes, as on Loving Hannah,  not even that, when Isobell’s crystal clear voice comes to the fore. 

The rawness of inspirational folk singers like Shirley Collins, who incidentally can still perform a lovely melody, is replicated by Isobell in her own sublime style. Her version of the traditional folk song Reynardine (well known as a Sandy Denny  Fairport Convention song on the groundbreaking  Liege & Leif album) is sung with pristine quality and shows that on this album the songs are the stars and Isobel is splendidly applying her interpretation of them, which is what the best folk artists through the years believe in.

“In my whole life,” says Isobell, “everything has always been about the songs. And as a writer listening, absorbing and learning about these magical, mysterious treasures taught and inspired so much.”

There are three instrumentals: James is enchanting and sublime; Milkwhite Sheets comes armed with cello and harp, all dreamy and exquisite, and Over The Wheat And Barley is mysterious and haunting.

This album should appeal to the folk purist and those who just enjoy the softly, softly approach to music with mellow, tuneful singing. If you listened to these two albums and the recent solo release you would be excused from thinking they were from three different artists but skilful interpretation and quality oozes from all three from he highly talented Isobell Campbell.

Listen to Time Is Just The Same here:

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