A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Judd Grossman
The Camp Hoboken compilation cassette showcases 7 different artists on 14 tracks, some live and some studio recordings. The project is a limited issue sampler cassette created for the 1996 Folk Alliance Conference.
Track 1: The Marys - Ringing In My Ears The cassette opens with a tune by the Marys called "Ringing In My Ears" which is a pretty weak acoustic pop piece with some awkward gaps. The Marys are Connie Sharar and Don Brody. They put out, but their voices are not great. This is not a good song. When my ears ring it's generally not a good thing. This song ends up sounding whiny.
Track 2: Christian Bauman - Blues for Willie Parker Christian Bauman is joined by Carol Sharar on violin and Karl Dietel on bass. Bauman oversings this monotonous piece about a world weary criminal type. Sharar plays well on the tune adding a feverish touch while remaining musical.
Track 3: Linda Sharar - The Mystery The first revelation of the album. Linda Sharar presents a pleasingly tuneful acoustic groove called "The Mystery." Sharar's vocals and delivery remind me of Kate MacLeod, though without the lyrical power. Sharar has a talent for songwriting, however.
Track 4: Big Happy Crowd - Dial Tone Following "The Mystery" is another mystery by Big Happy Crowd called "Dial Tone." The mystery is why Rich Grula wrote this lame song and why nobody stopped him from putting it on this compilation. An example of the lyrics: "I keep checkin' if I've got a dial tone, hopin' that maybe I don't. 'Cause then there'd be some reason why you haven't called, but there's nothing wrong with my dial tone." Enough said.
Track 5: Amazing Incredibles - Who Dat There Who Dat There is an admirably produced swing thing performed by the Amazing Incredibles. The Amazing Incredibles include Eddie Fogarty on vocals, guitar and spoons, John Kurgan on guitar and vocals, the ubiquitous Carol Sharar on violin, and David Post on stand up bass and vocals. The performance is tasteful and polished, the song is catchy and the production is very nice.
Track 6: Bar Scott - Write Me a Love Letter Bar Scott is one hell of a singer. The tone of this song is something like Joni Mitchell meets Melissa Manchester. Scott's sweet, strong vocals soar over an emotional chorus. The production ranges from solo piano and voice to a swelling rock orchestra instrumental bridge. It's bit overproduced for my tastes. I'd prefer more substance to the song and less frosting.
Track 7: Gregg Cagnos - Thunderstorms Cagnos is a very consistent performer with decent songwriting skills. He has a terrific voice that sounds like Don McLean, and his guitar playing is intricate and complements his voice well. This guy is good.
Track 8: Amazing Incredibles - Bait, Trout & Baggy Pants Another exuberant swing - a - billy tune, with charming lead vocals and tight instrumentals. The words trip by a little to fast for me on this one. I would like to take my wife out dancing to the music of the Amazing Incredibles.
Track 9: Big Happy Crowd - All I've Got's Your CD Rich Grula redeems himself with this sexy look at the girl next door who makes it big. Grula rocks on this tune. From the lyrics: "We were 15 when her mom passed out as we watched from the pool, drunk on cherry Kool-Aid and wine, when she pulled me into her living room and as a single puddle formed we kissed so hard I could taste her blood in mine." This song has some rough spots, but its definitely a comeback after Dial Tone.
Track 10: Greg Cagno - From Here Cagno offers some of the best writing on the Camp Hoboken compilation with his song "From Here." He says "From here I can read the papers, they give 'm out for free. From here I can cut the wires connecting you and me." With his smooth capable voice and tasteful guitar accompaniment Cagno carries this song well. Rich Grula's percussion only distracts from this performance.
Track 11: Bar Scott - I'm Here Too Scott's production outstrips her songwriting on this cut but frankly I find Scott's singing so compelling that I don't care if the song is mediocre. Scott's voice has the power to move.
Track 12: Linda Sharar - Carriage Horse Sharar quietly and without flashiness gives a very strong performance. Her writing fits her voice and guitar very well. Sometimes congruence can make up for lack of monster skills. Her airy voice makes one feel empathy with the carriage horse who toils in service of lovers and sightseers. Consider these lines: "I'm the carriage horse and I will bear you through this park, and I have worn these streets with the weight of my hoof mark, and the work is free, they have bound me into silence, and I will bear this heat just to top off your last day in the city."
Track 13: Christian Bauman - In Black and White This emotional discussion of impending death works well to show off Bauman's rich voice and thoughtful songwriting. Good writing and good performance on this cut.
Track 14: The Marys - The Day Roy Orbison Died This song is much better than "Ringing In My Ear." I like the production on this tune with John Kurgan on bass, Keith Crane on percussion, Carol Sharar on violin and Gregg Cagno and Linda Sharar on backing vocals, though I think the mix feels thin. The Marys singing together are more then the sum of their individual voices.
Camp Hoboken is very uneven and could have used a more courageous edit. I was particularly impressed with Bar Scott and Gregg Cagno.
It's a good idea, though. Artists can pool resources and put out a sampler of their music inexpensively so that people like me can criticize it. I've discovered some new names to watch.
Edited by Kerry Dexter