Kate Campbell is a folkie singer with a feel for twang who comes out of the same poetic, literature-oriented tradition as Nanci Grittith. Although she's not what I would strictly consider a "gospel" artist, Campbell's work is notable for its multi-layered exploration of her own Christian faith, less an evangelical effort than a contemplative, searching examination of her own spirituality. Here's a quick look at some of her work...
Kate Campbell "The Portable Kate Campbell" (Compadre, 2004)
Although this is a "best-of" set, it's not actually a collection of stuff from old records, but rather new versions of favorite songs, and a few new ones to keep things lively. Like other Campbell albums, this is a little troublesome for me, as the music is consistently interesting, but the public religiousity aspect feels uncomfortable. Her Christian soul-searching is obviously heartfelt and sincere, but it still feels intrusive or overly intimate, somehow. Then again, I suppose no one is forcing folks like me to buy her records... And for people who are looking for religiously-themed music that's more nuanced and soul-searching than the norm, this is certainly fresh, creative material. This disc in particular is a pretty good introduction to Campbell and her ouvre.
Kate Campbell "Songs From The Levee" (Compass, 1994)
Kate Campbell "Moonpie Dreams" (Compass, 1997)
Kate Campbell "Visions Of Plenty" (Compass, 1998)
Kate Campbell "Rosaryville" (Compass, 1999)
Kate Campbell "Wandering Strange" (Eminent, 2001)
Kate Campbell "Monuments" (Evangeline, 2003)
Kate Campbell "Twang On A Wire" (Large River, 2003)
An interesting set of country and countrypolitan cover tunes, featuring such venerable oldies as Donna Fargo's "Funny Face," Emmylou's "Boulder To Birmingham," "Harper Valley PTA," "Help Me Make It Through The Night," etc. I have to confess, I've never been that into Campbell's work, but this disc seemed like a good chance to factor out one of the three factors in her music -- songwriting, performance and production -- and get a better sense of what makes her tick. Turns out, sure enough, the production (and her band) sounds just fine, but I sure don't like her voice. Her heart seems in the right place, but she sure ain't no Dolly or Lynn Anderson. Most of these songs start with great promise, but Campbell just doesn't seem able to really ride them home -- most fall flat and directionless by the time she's through with 'em. Sorry to be such a grouch, but I gotta call it like I hear it. If you like Campbell, then this is a great record... But if you just wanna hear a great country record -- well, I could think of a plenty of others to recommend before you turned to this one.
Kate Campbell "Sing Me Out" (Compadre, 2004)
Kate Campbell "Blues And Lamentations" (Large River, 2005)
(Produced by Walt Aldridge)
Sorry - I just find this stuff to be dreary. I'm not interested in her nuanced reflections on Jesus Christ (I prefer celebratory high-lonesome harmony singin' and spooky, judgmental, fundamentalist preachin'... not doleful, amorphous soul searching.) Ditto with the secular stuff: there just isn't enough punch to her work to hold my attention. No offense meant to her many fans: if you really dig Kate Campbell, more power to you. It's just not my cup of tea.
Kate Campbell & Spooner Oldham "For The Living Of These Days" (Large River, 2006)
Kate Campbell "Save The Day" (Large River Music, 2008)
(Produced by Walt Aldridge)
You may have mixed feelings about Kate Campbell's searching spirituality, but as an artist she's certainly getting better at making a strong presentation, as heard here on this album's title track, which is one of the poppiest, most accessible tunes recordings of her career. The rest of the album tilts towards an acoustic, confessional folk feel (a later attempt at a poppy melodic song, "Shining Like The Sun," feels facile and falls flat...) and the religious message that in the past Campbell has cloaked in poetical language is much more prominent and baldly stated. Some listeners will appreciate this, others may not. Folk demigod John Prine pitches in on a track that's a musical standout, but will be a turnoff for secular-minded listeners ("Looking For Jesus") and Nanci Griffith is also on here, although her contribution didn't stand out as much. For Campbell's devoted fans, this disc will be a continuation of her long spiritual-artistic journey, although I gotta say the lack of subtlety (as compared to earlier albums) makes me wonder where she's headed with all this. Much of this album could as easily have shown up on an independently released, mom-and-pop Southern Gospel album... Which might be the audience she's aiming for, after all.
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