It is a rare thing for an artist to record and release two albums of re-recordings of previously released material at the same time, but Kate Campbell has done just that. Sing Me Out has come out on Compadre Records at the same time as The Portable Kate Campbell. Both are studio albums reprising songs that have appeared on her three albums released between 1997 and 1999. As a fan I wondered why Kate Campbell would want to mess with success. Those albums are notable for the way they match dynamic production to her unique vocals and character-rich songs. Campbell has stated that she and the songs have changed over the years, making the albums interesting for long-time fans as well as serving as an introduction to her older music for new fans.
Kate Campbell's songs are often from a specifically Southern perspective. Sing Me Out focuses on the spiritual side of her deep South upbringing. Although her early interest in music was piqued in her father's church choir, her songs poke and prod the foibles of the church-going culture as successfully as she celebrates the sustaining power of faith. As I listen to Sing Me Out I realize that this is the album I would have made for myself if I was making a "best of" of Campbell's music. These are some of her most inspirational songs and some of her funniest. The spirituality of the songs comes from within the characters rather than facile recitation of doctrine. Delmus Jackson is the unforgettable story of church custodian whom she was deeply influenced by. The song portrays a kind, hard-working black man who in the late '60s South, buys a little white girl a Coke and tells her "...I'm working for the Lord/ Gonna see His face for my reward/ And on that day, He will say/ Well-done, Delmus Jackson." Who Will Pray For Junior finds a widow pondering her own immanent demise with unflinching candor. "A mother's love a son will surely miss/ I've made my peace with everything but this."
Older Angel is wryly reverent in a scripturally revisionist way. "We need an older angel if we're gonna make it through/ One who's been around this block we're on a time or two."
Campbell laughs, not unkindly, at neighborly customs in Funeral Food. "Plastic cups and silverware/ Lime-green Tupperware everywhere/ Pass the chicken, pass the pie/ We sure eat good when someone dies." Jesus and Tomatoes is sure to rile the folks who see the Savior's face in various stains and natural formations, but hey, at least they'll think twice about throwing tomatoes! On a serious note, Campbell deals with snake-handling evangelist in Signs Following.
There is one new song on the album, Would You Be A Parson. In it, a mother's prayer for her baby is answered. She has apparently promised him to God as a preacher in return for his favor. The song's strength is in the fact that it celebrates the simple, powerful faith of the mother without judging the act of predetermination.
If you already have the albums these songs are drawn from, you still may want to buy this one. In general, the songs are more acoustic than the originals. Producer Will Kimbrough smoothly blends guitars, upright bass, fiddle, mandolin and resonator guitars. Careful comparison with the older versions of these songs shows that they are at least as good as the originals, and often the definitive versions of the songs. Although Kate Campbell beautifully evokes a particular time and place, this is not just music for people of a certain religion or culture. This album can be cherished by anyone with a spiritual side and a love of fine music.
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