Milkwhite sheets - Anna C gets all fragile and tender
KATHRYN WILLIAMS- Leave to remain
I wonder how many reviews of Ms. Williams' work have used the word "fragile"? Except she isn't. I would definitely say more tender. Because here is a woman, though stripped bare, who has her head completely screwed on and knows exactly how it is. And because this record is such that anyone can put on the stereo to remember someone special, be it the love of their life or the best lay they ever had. Surprisingly seductive for something so seemingly sweet and playful, here lies a collection of songs written by the naked woman, intimate and vulnerable, not words you might typically associate with those of Scouse descent. Though, admittedly, something that is not overwrought with variation, "Leaves to remain" nevertheless makes a clear, concise choice to be grabbing and enticing throughout, almost welcoming like an old friend. Simple emotions forge a personal but, ultimately, unsentimental relationship with the listener, at times overwhelming though often understated, with an endearing honesty and meaningful presence matched only recently by Ray Lamontagne or Regina Spektor, coupled with the winsome and classicly melodic vocal of Nick Drake, except, say, after taking more sugar in his tea.
From the stunningly easy perfection of album opener, "Blue onto you", lush layered harmonies wrap their childlike fingers around yours, giving a gentle squeeze to sooth troubled minds, backed with the simple orchestration and gentle rhythm that makes this such a beautiful treat for the ears. Delicate and lovely, tracks like the aching "Sustain Pedal", "Room in my head" and the nervously slight sexuality of the standout "Glass bottom boat", are for the joy of watching someone you love sleep, tracing their face with your fingertips, familiar and safe, or for the moment after what you thought was purely sex and you realise that the look in their eye is something you have been looking for your whole life. Regardless, each story told stands testament to how grand a scale relationships can reach if we would only let them, wiping any trace of cynicism and the desperation in the daily grind clean away. And, as the artist claims herself: "you don't need to know people to love them". A fact she has proved tenfold with this release.
ISOBEL CAMPBELL- Milkwhite sheets
Once upon a time, in a mysterious and supernatural world far, far away, there lived a blonde girl with big eyes, a captivating smile and slightly wonky yet chic fringe, who lived high in a tower overlooking a beautiful bay where the ocean was clear and the sand was golden. Life would have been good for her if her tower was not surrounded by shimmering mermaids who, every time a ship appeared on the horizon, would call and sing their tempting song, flicking their tails in delight as, one by one, the sailors within were called to their deaths. The blonde girl had to watch these handsome and brave men drown each time and, for each one, she would compose a lament, mourning the fact that another chance of true love was gone, borrowing harmonies from the ghosts that went before and melodies from the dreams of escape she held dear. If she ever did, she thought, she would wear deeply coloured velvet and spill glitter wherever she walked.
Which just about sums up what you should expect to hear on Miss Campbell's second LP release. Confirming her rather offbeat romance with traditional folk music, "Milkwhite sheets" takes a tentative and seemingly innocent step away from her indie/country-rock former amalgamation, instead transforming into a magical creature whose fuzzy beauty is best caught in morning light. A meandering journey back to days of yore, the former Belle and Sebastian vocalist and cellist steps into a new spotlight of her own, a more ambient one to that of Mercury Award Prize nominated collaborations, but bright nonetheless.
Because this is an album which teaches us to listen. Initially, it may seem like the shy offerings of some whispering goddess sitting next to James Iha playing the lute, but it soon becomes apparent that the almost pagan-like rituals found herein are making a much bolder statement and the power in Campbell's music is that you have to dig deep to notice what is there. Beginning with the lilting "Oh love is teasin'", a slightly unsure voice merges with desolate strumming, building up the tracks that follow often dramatically with haunting cello and wistful arpeggios to create something quite primeval and barely beautiful. From reworked offerings "Willow's song" and "Hori horo" to the contrasting indie menace of closing track "Thursday's child", the simple structure of what are essentially love songs makes this an extra-special album in my opinion, as it is not afraid of doing something different, and like-minded people are thus invited in to have their cockles warmed by this rawest of British talents.
RACHELLE VAN ZANTEN- The Loft, Cambridge 10/12/06
Rachelle Van Zanten is a Canadian singer-songwriter who fearlessly thrashes her guitar like she has balls of steel hidden under her pretty flowing skirt. Flitting between the kind of Southern hick-town blues rock which belongs in some dive far back in the woods and more traditional country moments straight from a homely log cabin up on the mountain, using powerful slide guitar and two boys as a backing band, the audience tonight should be far more captivated than they are (there is the usual ambience of people shouting to make themselves heard over the stunning artist they are just missing). However, for those that were listening, we are rewarded with an inspirational performance from someone wholly deserving of your attention; combining the groove of Ben Harper with the soft personal femininity of Lucinda Williams or Eddi Reader and a friendly stage banter, what you can expect from Ms Van Zanten in simple uncomplicated rock and roll talent. And, as she implores the crowd tonight after introducing her final track: "can I get an amen?" Seriously amazing stuff.
Thanks to Immylou Coalminer for sorting out the evening for us. Eternally indebted.