'Teaching Us The Real History of The Blues'
Kate Campbell's latest album, Blues & Lamentations, due Sept. 6 on her own imprint Large River Music, is her first CD of all new compositions since the release of Monuments in 2002. Her legions of fans will joyfully embrace this collection of songs, which mine the blues, digging into the dark emotions of a genre most-often associated with sadness and despair. But the blues has always been about regret and the release of regret. That's the magic of the blues-singing the sorrow sets it free.
Campbell has been weaving a tapestry of uniquely Southern music and Blues & Lamentations follows the thread she began with in the roots exploration of Wandering Strange. She ventured into the country music of her childhood with Twang On A Wire before taking on the blues. It was a natural progression for the New Orleans-born songwriter who grew up in the Delta.
She has the same eye for detail and storytelling flair that many writers from the South possess. In fact, there's a literary quality to Campbell's writing that can't be denied and isn't unexpected given her academic background. She earned a Master's degree in History (with an emphasis on southern history) from Auburn University. She's done doctoral work in history at the University of California in Riverside and also at Vanderbilt University. She was an adjunct professor of history at Belmont and MTSU in Nashville before she began pursuing music full-time.
Chatting recently with Kate, I first wondered why now was the right time for her to record this new album? "Iíve been thinking about this album for about three years. So once I had all the songs ready, it was the right time to record it. As with all of my recordings, I start with a general theme and then write songs specifically around that idea. As for the three cover songs on the album, Guy Clark played 'Pans Of Biscuits' for me about ten years ago and IĎve been waiting for the right time to record it. I first heard 'Mining Camp Blues' on an old Hazel & Alice record about twenty years ago. A DJ from Kentucky introduced me to the music of Jessie Mae Hemphill and the song 'Lord, Help The Poor And Needy.' Once I had the ďBluesĒ theme, I knew these songs would fit nicely on the album."
Where did its title Blues and Lamentations originate ... "Initially, I was going to call the album Blues New And Used, which was an idea that I got from the Zora Neale Hurston quote thatís in the liner notes. Thatís also where I got the idea to do a ďBluesĒ themed record. Somewhere along the way, the title Blues And Lamentations just came to me."
... and which new track are you most proud of - and why? "Thatís a hard question because I like all the tracks for different reasons. Initially for me, it would be the song 'Free World' because Iíve been carrying around that title and the line ďIím going out into the free world and farmĒ for about ten years, and that phrase is from a short story by William Faulkner. So after carrying it with me for so long it was good to finally finish the song and to find a place for it on this record."
Mining the depths of the blues, and all that sorrow that flows steadily, did you ever find yourself so deep into it's musical despair that you needed a time out? "Not really because I enjoy the creative process, and in the case of the blues, the music is itself a release. I donít fret too much over songs. I wait for them to develop and they all come in their own time."
Having been born in New Orleans, and grown up in the Delta, what does that background enable you to bring to your recordings that perhaps others from 'the city' couldn't? "I am grateful and fortunate to have been raised in a part of the country that I consider the birthplace of American music. Having said that, I donít think you necessarily have to be from a specific place to appreciate or to create a particular kind of music. Thatís sort of what Iím getting at in the song 'Miles of Blues'."
With a Master's degree in History, a doctoral work in history, and having been an adjunct professor of history at Belmont and MTSU in Nashville, just what is it with history that you love so darn much?! "History gives me a way to dialogue with myself and the community at large."
How musically (or otherwise) inspired are you by such people as William Butler Yeats, etc.? "I love poetry. I love words and language. Iíve been reading at least one poem a day for several years now and I never know when a particular poem is going to inspire a song. A Yeats poem inspired the song 'Peace Comes Stealing Slow.' I also love the visual arts and thus the reason why I asked a friend of mine Michelle Mackey to do the CD Cover painting."
How important are the 'undercurrents' to your songs; those sung layers that get deeper the more you listen? "I like it when people tell me what a song means to them Ė even if their understanding of the song may not have been what I originally intended. Take 'Miles Of Blues' for instance. On one level itís just a traveling song about how the blues are everywhere. On another level I was careful to include a lot of the cities that are associated with the blues. On another level, itís a song about economic disparity, and so on. Thatís what I mean when I say that a song can have layers. You donít necessarily have to get all the layers to enjoy the song. You may just like the melody and thatís good too. Often, even six months later, Iíll discover something about a song that I wasnít even aware of when I first wrote it. Itís like viewing a painting in a museum. You can go back a week later and see something totally different and new in the painting that you didnít see the first time."
What cheesy '80s song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "Well, 'Fame' from the TV show and movie. And Iíd like to record it at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama."
If there were just 3 words that described Kate Campbell's music, what would they be? "Simple. Organic. Story."
Finally, if you were asked to record a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other musicians to aid you in the project, who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the song be?! "I would choose Spooner Oldham on Hammond B-3 Organ; Duane Allman on guitar; and Mahalia Jackson singing background vocals. The song would be the Van Morrison song 'Tupelo Honey'."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win a copy of Kate's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: Which song of Kate's tells the story of Burrell Canon, a Texas Preacher and inventor?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of Kate's new CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before September 18th with your answer and the subject title 'KATE CAMPBELL CD GIVEAWAY' to: email@example.com
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