Kate Campbell,
(Compass, 1999)

The quality of Kate Campbell's fourth album comes as no surprise. It may be peculiar, but one has come to expect nothing less than another great album by her. And she delivers it. The music and its consistency remain impressive. Bad songs? Not to be found here.

If Emmylou Harris should ever decide to retire, we justly would shed many tears, but as long as we could have another Kate Campbell album every now and then, life would at least still be bearable. This is not to say that Campbell is some kind of substitute or second-rate Emmylou -- far from it. But she belongs to the same crop of musicians, those scarce artists that are somehow bound to make good music only. This may sound almost too grand, still it's nothing but the plain truth.

With Kate Campbell the South rises again. Full of simple glory. But Campbell begs to differ for her South is a different one, not the one that band's like Lynyrd Skynyrd sing about. Campbell's music makes you think of a magnolia tree in eternal bloom. Luscious smells and an everlasting warmth is in the air when Campbell starts playing her soulful short stories. Her music and words are gracefully executed. They are created to make sure that they have a long lasting impression on the listener.

If you need more of a comparison apart from Emmylou Harris, other singing writers like Nanci Griffith or Lucinda Williams come to mind. Campbell belongs to the world of country as well as the world of folk, easily crossing the invisible borders between the two styles again and again.

With Spooner Oldham playing the Wurlitzer and Mike Hanna on the B3 Organ, you can detect bits of the Memphis sound. Campbell occupies herself almost exlusively with singing, playing the piano on one track only. Otherwise the music stays pretty much on the acoustic side of things, not surprising with instruments like the mandolin and the bouzouki involved. Still, the album doesn't shy away from using electric guitars, drums or bass. In any case, the mixture is electrifying.

All the mentioned niceties are topped by the fact that Campbell is also a superb writer of lyrics. Campbell is like a influental film director, she knows what it takes to reach her goal and to fulfill her vision. But she's not relying on other people's money as she (if necessary) could deliver it all by herself: the idea, the script and the execution. In "Ave Maria Grotto" she takes you to a man who spent his lifetime recreating the architectural wonders of mankind in miniature. In "Rosa's Coronas" she carefully portrays the life of a maker of Cuban cigars who watched her daughter emigrate to the U.S. Campbell manages to capture the joys and sorrows of the human life in an extraordinary way. Listen to the songs evolve and you will feel as if you accompanied the main characters for a good part of their journey. And the parting from them is the hard thing to do, as they all seem to have become your friends in one way or another.

Even if you not really into singer-songwriters, this CD is a must. Kate Campbell is without doubt one of the most important folk/country artists of our time. And this record is one of top five albums of 1999. You want to prove that you are a man/woman of taste? The easiest way would be to buy this CD.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

Buy Rosaryville from Amazon.com.

Visit Kate Campbell's website.