Her third album, Milkwhite Sheets finds Isobel singing by herself this time – and, for the charming ‘Loving Hannah’, with no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever. The darkness, however, lingers. Conceived and recorded in tandem and shortly after ‘Ballad…’ (“Mark took some time to work on his vocals, so I had all this time to play with,” says Isobel), ‘Milkwhite Sheets’ is a piercingly beautiful set of traditional songs and originals. More intimate, more deftly twisted than ‘Ballad…’, it draws on broader and more personal influences.
Isobel describes ‘Milkwhite Sheets’ – an album heavy with seductive mystery – as “feminine, animalistic and pagan”. She cites ‘outsider’ folk singers like Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, and Kentucky-based singer and dulcimer player Jean Ritchie as particular influences; she was introduced to the music of Collins by David Tibet, of apocalyptic avant-folk veterans Current 93, with whom she has played. “These women really inspired me,” she says. “They were completely unique.”
These songs are “psychedelic lullabies”, referencing the resurgent psychedelic folk ‘scene’ of acts like Six Organs Of Admittance, Espers and Devendra Banhart. ‘Milkwhite Sheets’ proves a similarly refreshing juxtaposition of the ancient, traditional folk arts and the more abrasive, experimental elements of modern avant-rock, as these kindred spirits’ work.
This is a beautiful, brave, subtly subversive record; calm on the surface, torrential beneath. “It’s not an album that’s trying to ‘court’ anyone, it’s to be taken on its own terms,” she shrugs. “‘Loving Hannah’ was inspired by listening to unaccompanied singing. There’s no grandness to that music, it sounds so defiant. It just shows, if you don’t have money to embellish a song, it can still sound amazing.”
It’s that very spirit that animates this special album, Isobel singing softly, over hushed instrumentation, yet still moving mountains. A record that will give you pleasant pause; an artist who can’t seem to sit still, she’s got so many ideas to pursue.
“It’s been lovely, who wouldn’t want to be recognised for what they do?” she says, of the reception Ballad Of The Broken Seas has enjoyed. “But it’s not ever been my reason for doing the things I do. I just want to keep making the music that I want… If I ever want to do a death metal record, something with people screaming all over it, I will do!”
Isobel found her initial fame playing cello and singing with deftly-melodic Glaswegian indie collective Belle & Sebastian, before branching off for the lushly-orchestrated melancholia of her Gentle Waves for two LPs, and releasing her debut solo album, the acclaimed Amorino in 2003.