I'm a stalker, but in my defense, it is for the sake of the music. About three years ago, see, I ran headlong into Amy Campbell. Well, not into her, but I was turned on to her. Ever since, I have been scouring the ether looking for anything and everything I can find out about her. No, not the personal stuff, but everything which pertained to her music. Videos, articles, tour dates, comments. During that long period, I would occasionally send Ms. Campbell an email asking for an update regarding her recording situation and she would respond. Well, if saying not yet is a response. She said not yet a number of times—enough that I almost stopped emailing. Then, a few months ago she broke the sequence. I'm recording, she said. And later, soon.
Let me explain. I did not really run into Campbell. I ran into her album, Oh Heart, Oh Highway (reviewed here) and after a number of listens had fallen in love with it and with Campbell's voice. It wasn't a unique voice as much as it was fresh; Campbell having a way of phrasing that put me at my ease. There was heart in it, and soul. Oh Heart, Oh Highway became a palate cleanser for me, if you will. When I tired of listening, when I tired of electric—indeed, when I tired of everything and took time away, Heart, Highway was a transitional album—the one used more than any other to ease myself back into the routine. So when Letters Home was ready, so was I.
There is always an anxiety, I find, when hearing a new album by a favorite artist. The three years I had spent enjoying Amy Campbell had made her more than just another musician or singer. Like I said. Her music was fresh and personal. It struck home. What if, I thought, this one is not as good? What if the personal was missing or the voice not quite right or the songs not quite as good? It happens, you know. You've experienced it, maybe with that Rolling Stones album which sounded like they'd just tossed against the wall. Or that Dylan album which completely lacked heart. You know, that sinking feeling you got when Paul McCartney proved himself less than a Beatle. Well, this was even more personal than that. I like Amy Campbell and I believe in Amy Campbell and when someone like her comes along and puts as much as she did into Heart, Highway, I not only want it to be good but better. Call it pulling for the underdog or anything you want, but by the time Letters Home slipped into my disc player, it was personal.
It still is. At first listen, I was not really sure what to think. The voice was there, the songs were there, but… But I wasn't sure. It sounded the same. But I didn't want it to sound the same. Maybe that is fine for certain other artists, but not for her. She has talent, damn it, and I wanted progress!
I laugh at myself. I never give artists I know have the talent the benefit of the doubt. I never take their music for granted. I always look, at first glance, for that blemish—that something that is missing or that added part which gets in the way.
The first few listens were tough. I had my critical ear to the grindstone, as it were. But then, as I began to really hear the music, I eased up began to feel at ease. I let it flow. Listen after listen. And it got better and better. Letters Home is not only as good as her previous album, it is better. It is smooth and beautiful in just the right places and it sets moods. It rends the heart and shuffles and at times almost cries. It sets the bar higher, too. These songs are also personal and they too have heart and soul. I shouldn't have worried.
Some people think I go overboard when I write about certain albums. That's probably not a good thing, I know. A reviewer should keep him or herself separated from the music, I suppose, and I try to do that as much as possible. But with Amy Campbell, I can't. Her music won't let me.
Which is why this review has taken me a good two months to write. The good ones are always the hardest to write about. You want the review to be as good as the music, though it never is. You want it to strike a note with the reader. You want to sell the album without pushing. You want people to listen because you're sure a few listens will do it. But you get caught up in it. You write with more enthusiasm than maybe you should. And you don't even know it until you edit. Then you rewrite and curb some of that enthusiasm. You make it sound—well, less. Because who wants to buy an album or even listen to an album recommended by someone who is so over the top that he sounds like he's on the payroll?
I'm hoping you do. I'm hoping that you can read between the lines and realize that I'm not asking you to buy something unheard. What I am asking you to do is simply listen. This album may not strike you as deeply as it does me. All music is not for all people, after all. But what if it could? What if you have a chance to hear an artist who might well set you back on your heels on some level? Would you take a few moments to sample the music? Mightn't it be worth it?
This is all I'm saying. A girl and a guitar with backing band, pretty much acoustic. Outstanding songs beautifully performed and recorded. Take a chance. What have you got to lose?
That's Amy Campbell. She's from Canada. And she just put out a damn fine album. I leave it in your hands.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles