Scott Campbell’s New Album, ‘An Old Photo,’ is a Wonderful Old Friend
Scott Campbell’s new album, An Old Photo, is an old friend. An old, reliable, reasonably steady friend who reminds you of the ‘good old days.’ This beautiful recording harkens back to those days before autotune and other distractions diluted the purity of music.
An Old Photo meets at the intersection of country rock, Americana and folk music. “Welcome to the Neighborhood” extends a hand of friendship immediately, of the come-in-and-set-a-spell variety. Campbell’s voice might remind you of Eric Clapton’s country blues vocals and J.J. Cale’s breathy style.
Speaking of old photos and old friends, Campbell described his band mates old-school style, with five written pages of notes.
Bassist Randy Barnhill joins Campbell’s guitar on the album. Barnhill, Campbell says, “is in my estimation the most important part of this record and the only other musician on every track.” Leon Anderson, head of the FSU Jazz Department, drums on five of the tracks. Barnhill, Anderson and Campbell comprise the core trio.
Campbell adds, “The five basic tracks with Leon (first four songs and ‘The Black Death’) were done in one night in October 2015 and dictated how I should proceed: adding Avis Berry, Brian Durham and Kelly Goddard on vocals.”
“I’ve worked a lot with Avis, a remarkable woman and musician of power, stature and palpable essence of love. That’s who sang the Stevie Winwood parts when we covered Blind Faith (Purple Hatter’s Ball 2015). She plays a beautifully supportive role here, including that bit of vocal magic at the end of ‘Choices.’”
“Brian and Kelly are brother and sister and members of The New 76ers, a very popular local band and label mates on PING, a Tallahassee collective. John Babich (piano and organ) is JB of JB’s Zydeco Zoo, another popular regionally touring band. Besides the accordion, JB is a master of New Orleans-vibe Hammond B3 and piano.”
“Hal Month (piano and organ) was Deadkeys, ‘an exploration of the music of the Grateful Dead,’ which included Avis, Brian, Kelly, Kevin Robertson and myself; before that, he was with Ancient Harmony from Georgia. Now Hal plays almost exclusively Kirtan: yoga chant music. Robertson is an incredible flat picker and part of another PING band also very popular in Tally: Belle & the Band.”
“Kris Kolp (harmonica) is a singer, guitar player, songwriter and band leader who has focused on building a great studio: Log Cabin. He’s also, as you’ll hear, a monster harp player! Michael McKenzie (trumpet) and Tom Longfellow (saxophone) are individually fine horn players and are in demand; they make a fine section, with the charts written (literally) by Randy Barnhill — once again, indispensable. Finally, Ed Bradley: a local legend, seriously the patriarch of a drumming dynasty here… and a unique drummer.”
On to the music!
After some playful studio banter, Campbell sings, “Come on in, I wish you would” in “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” It is, again, that old theme, neighborhoods the way they used to be. You can get downright comfortable with this song. Babich’s B3 sounds great on the intro, and McKenzie has a nice trumpet solo before Longfellow joins him, and the guitar work is simply sublime.
In “Choices,” Campbell inspects and laments about some of the decisions and directions life has taken. “I don’t know where I took my wrong turn, somewhere. There’s a lesson that remains unlearned.” The vocal chorus sings like a gospel choir here, the song propelled by Anderson’s drums and more great guitar playing. The horns and guitar at the end intertwine, and then Berry’s soaring vocal takes it home.
“Still Water” is a great instrumental with Campbell busting out an old 1931 National Duolian, a resonator guitar. Month’s piano work here is deluxe, Anderson’s drums keeping the pace slow and steady.
The title of the next tune and its sentiment are incredibly searing: “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” There is so much history in that title, and Campbell wrings out every bit of it. A portion of the lyrics will make it clear: “Will you take a stand? Will you tell me when? Will you name names? Will you drop a dime? Will you hold the line? Will you do your time?” Campbell’s voice at once asks the questions and anticipates the answers.
The rocking tempo of “Mama Gonna Stay Out All Night Long” is the perfect shift after the slower pace and insight of “Are You Now…” Campbell fears for his life, as “Mama got a pistol, gonna use it on me. Gonna find my body at the bottom of the sea.” This is a raucous romp, outlaw country. Ed Bradley on drums plays a parade march of sorts with perfect harp courtesy of Kris Kolp, and the harp and Campbell’s stinging guitar lead wrap around each other as the song draws to a close.
“The Fool Again” is a plaintive ballad, Campbell accompanied only by Bradley’s drums and Barnhill on bass. Soft, vulnerable, insightful, the “again” tells us what we need to know. Barnhill is a brilliant bass accompanist on every track on the album.
A spacey acoustic yet electronic-sounding intro allows us to meet “The Black Death.” This instrumental benefits from Anderson’s laid-back drums, and once again Barnhill is there, with Month’s organ filling in the colors as Anderson picks up the pace, Campbell soloing on top.
Campbell says, “One more bit of credit to a very important musician — and good friend — who is on this record: Buck Colson. Buck is unique and waaaaay underutilized on this record – a phenomenal bassist and Warr Guitar player. (A Warr Guitar is a 12-string touch guitar in the Chapman Stick lineage – as used in King Crimson.) Buck plays an important if subtle role in ‘The Black Death,’ joining me in the spacey intro and the ambient sounds throughout and then another rhythmic counterpoint track during the head of the tune, both on his Warr Guitar.”
“Albert P. McQuaid” is pure singer-songwriter magic, a great story about a boy and his father. The return of the vocal chorus is perfect. “Now it’s all down to me, and I ain’t done yet.” Later, he offers, “It’s taken me a long time to grow into my skin.”
I suspect many of us can relate.
For all the right reasons, this album could have been recorded 50 years ago, yet it is timeless. Campbell is a guitar phenom who has never received his just rewards. Here’s hoping that An Old Photo will correct at least some of that.
And this is more than a new album; it’s Campbell’s first album. Now you might wonder how a many with 40 years in the business and 58 on the planet is just now getting around to releasing a record. Campbell explains:
“Now, why is this my first album? Good question. There was an Extra Hair record back in 1998 which was essentially under my direction, but this is the record to bear my name.
Well, I was primarily a sideman for many years – thought of myself as a guitar player more than a singer or songwriter – although I have sung and written near as long as I’ve played guitar (a loooooong time!).
Then it were questions that nagged at me: What side of my many varied musical interests? Which band of compatriots? Which songs? I finally decided it would be best to forget about making any defining statement and just lay something down. Now. And see how it rolls. So I took Randy and Leon into Kris’s studio on a night when a live gig was cancelled because the venue closed down. Ironically as it developed and fleshed out over the last year, this record ended up covering a lot of the directions I’m pulled towards and includes at least a few of the musicians I love to play with — and it’s done! And out!
Hopefully there’s another on the horizon.”
MusicFestNews will echo that sentiment!
You can listen to the entire album by clicking on this link for Campbell’s Facebook page and then clicking Music Player on the left. Do yourself a favor — check it out.
The Scott Campbell Band with Avis Berry, Leon Anderson and Randy Barnhill will play this Saturday at A Feast of Funk and Soul Food at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park from 1:30 to 3:00 PM.