Former Belle & Sebastian cellist Isobel Campbell has a voice like a newborn chick — fragile and breathy and barely peeping out of its shell. On her previous two records (recorded as the Gentle Waves, when she was still involved with B&S), she crafted music that complemented her vocals, i.e., music so twee that you wanted to ring its little neck. But on her first recording under her own name, Amorino, Campbell casts her web wider, fashioning jazz, bossa nova, and lounge backgrounds that push her singing in hardier directions.
That's not to say that the Scottish chanteuse is suddenly screaming like Kurt Cobain; it's just that she's not singing each song as if it were a lullaby. The lush bossa nova backings of “The Breeze Whispered Your Name” and “Johnny Come Home” push Campbell toward a newfound fluidity, while the singer's Betty Boop swagger during the Dixieland-ish “Cat's Pajamas” is a revelation. And on “Song for Baby,” a jazz-bossa duet with Philipe Pourhashemi, Campbell is downright sexy, curling her pipes around a flute and string section.
Campbell utilizes strings on half the tracks, as well as vibraphone, timpani, tubular bells, trumpet, and another dozen instruments. The 50-plus musicians might appear like overcompensation if the parts weren't so integral to the whole. Glockenspiel and horn accents buoy the country shuffle of “Time Is Just the Same”; xylophone and sighing background vocals make the soundtrack jazz of “October's Sky” swing. You need only compare the fleshed-out version of “There Is No Greater Gold” to the flaccid one on the Gentle Waves' Swansong for You to notice the improvement.
Lyrically, Campbell's grown as well. Whereas in the past she seemed content to be the Mariah Carey of indie pop (writing from the viewpoint of a sheltered 12-year-old girl), she now admits, “To taste honey we must taste blood.” For every line about a boy offering her a rainbow, there's one eviscerating an ex. (“Wearing your guitar/ Letting yourself cry” from “Monologue for an Old True Love” could easily be about her former paramour, B&S's Stuart Murdoch.) She may not exactly have the acidic demeanor of a Marianne Faithfull yet, but with Amorino Campbell's little chick has discovered her talons.