My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Craig Campbell

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Something’s Going On’

It looks as if Trace Adkins’ mainstream career is over, with his recent move from Show Dog Universal to Wheelhouse Records (a Broken Bow imprint). One never knows quite what to expect from Trace, and the music here covers the spectrum.

The first couple of singles for the label flopped, and deservedly so, as they are not very good. The first of these, ‘Jesus And Jones’, was almost a hit, peaking at #41. The song itself is actually solid, with its acceptance of maturity as a hellraiser torn between drinking and church realizes he needs to find a balance, but the production throws in too many bells and whistles aimed at contemporary “country” radio, and ends up muffling the song’s strengths.

‘Lit’, which failed to chart, is plain terrible, with cliché’d lyrics typical of Trace’s worst work, non-existent melody and loud, loud production with intrusive elements. It was cowritten by the album’s producer Mickey Jack Cones, perhaps no coincidence. ‘Country Boy Problems’ is awful in all the same ways lyrically and melodically, with a bit of cynical banjo thrown in. Opener ‘Ain’t Just The Whiskey Talkin’’ isn’t quite as bad, but is still cliché’d and too loud/cluttered.

Thankfully, his latest single (reviewed here by Razor X) is infinitely better. The song, written by Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rosen and Shane McAnally, is set to a gentle, attractive melody. Trace’s deep, warm voice is perfect for the song’s quiet reflection, and is well served by the understated production – the only song on the album for which this holds true. This is Trace Adkins at his best.

There are some other good songs here, despite the bombastic production. ‘Still A Soldier’, written by Phil O’Donnell and Wade Kirby, is a sympathetic portrait of a veteran who still bleeds red, white and blue despite his retirement to suburban civilian life; this is only a little over-produced. ‘Whippoorwills And Freight Trains’, another O’Donnell co-write, is a good mid-paced song about getting past a spell of loneliness. Trace gets to exercise the very lowest parts of his deep bass-baritone voice at the end of the song; but the production is too busy, and the song would be more effective with a more stripped down or traditional country production.

Two themes dominate the album, both adult in different ways. One is that of maturity; the other is a leaning to rather sexy songs. The best of the latter is the title track, which has a seductive melody and vocal, although it isn’t all that country. ‘I’m Gone’, written by Craig Campbell and Max T Barnes , isn’t too bad. ‘If Only You Were Lonely’ is muffled by the production. ‘Gonna Make You Miss Me’ is far too busy with irritating electronic intrusions. Both would be much better with different production choices.

The album closes with ‘Hang’, a pleasant if not ground-breaking tune about quiet downtime in the countryside which Trace’s vocal renders likeable despite busy production.

Next time around, Trace needs to ditch this producer and play to his strengths. This project is disappointing, especially given the long wait.

Grade: C+

Single Review: Craig Campbell – ‘Outskirts of Heaven’

craig_campbell_performance_2013Spiritual songs have been a staple of country music from the genre’s very beginnings, although one would hardly know it from listening to the radio over the past decade or so. In his latest effort “Outskirts of Heaven”, which he co-wrote with Dave Turnbull, Craig Campbell dusts off the tried and true theme of life in the hereafter, with one small twist: Heaven is a shining city where the streets are paved with gold. So where would any self-respecting country boy prefer to be? On the outskirts, of course, in the wide open, rural spaces where the pace is just a little more laid back. It’s not exactly how I’ve ever thought about Paradise, but somehow it seems to make perfect sense.

In addition to the spiritual theme, Campbell and Turnbull have also managed to create a well-crafted song that extolls the virtues of rural life without getting in the listener’s face. There are references to buck knives, rifles and fishing but thankfully there are no beer, trucks or tailgating in cornfields. By declaring his preference for an afterlife on a farm instead of right smack in the middle of God’s Eternal City, Campbell manages to pay homage to the country lifestyle in a substantive manner, unlike the countless superficial redneck pride anthems that have polluted the radio airwaves in recent years.

The lyrics are simple yet meaningful, the production is restrained and tasteful, with plenty of harmony and steel guitar. The electric guitar near the end is a little at odds with the otherwise traditional arrangement, but it’s nothing I can’t live with. Campbell’s vocal reminds of me of the early Trace Adkins back when Trace still knew how to pick decent songs. This song would have been a surefire hit in the 90s, and maybe now that the bro-country movement is showing signs of waning, radio will be receptive to something a little more traditional.

Despite getting off to a promising start, Craig Campbell’s career has not caught on the way it should — partly because the current climate is a tough one for traditional artists and partly because he lacked the promotional backing of a strong record label. His former label Bigger Picture Music Group folded in 2014. “Outskirts of Heaven” is Campbell’s second release under a new deal with Red Bow Records. Now that Chris Stapleton has opened the door for traditionalists just a crack, it remains to be seen if Craig Campbell (or anyone else) can finally knock it off its hinges.

Grade: A

Album Review: Craig Campbell – ‘Never Regret’

neverregretCraig Campbell’s eponymous debut album was one of the few bright spots in country music in 2011. It contained some first-rate songs, but lacking the support of a major label, it didn’t sell as well as it should have. Never Regret, which was released last month, continues in the same neotraditional vein. Keith Stegall and Matt Rovey produced the set, and Campbell shares songwriting credits on half of the album’s songs.

“Truck-N-Roll”, the opening track, is not as fluffy as the title might suggest. Co-written by Campbell with Brett Beavers and Chris Lindsey, it sounds a lot like something Beavers might have written for Dierks Bentley. It is also reminiscent of Easton Corbin’s “All Over The Road”, but it’s a better song and would make a good summertime single. Another mid-tempo number, the more contemporary “Keep Them Kisses Comin'” likewise should have a lot of appeal to radio, as would the humorous “My Baby’s Daddy” in which Campbell discusses an uneasy relationship with his future father-in-law. To date, however, only one single has been released — “Outta My Head”, a pleasant but forgettable piece of fluff that cracked the Top 40 last fall.

The album’s best track is the ballad “When She Grows Up”, about a father’s aspirations for his infant daughter, though I could have done without the very young child singing “Jesus Loves Me”, which serves as the song’s intro. “That’s Why God Made A Front Porch” is another winner, though it is probably not commercial enough to be released to radio. Another Campbell co-write, it is one of those increasingly rare songs that manages to pay homage to the country lifestyle without a lot of amped-up electric guitars and redneck posturing. “You Can Come Over”, is another nice ballad in which Campbell attempts to keep at arm’s length an old flame that he’s not quite over yet.

There isn’t anything particularly memorable about the remainder of the album’s songs. Overall, the material on Never Regret isn’t as strong as that of the first album. Campbell didn’t write as many of the songs this time around, and it appears as though he and his producers may have had some trouble finding an entire album’s worth of first-rate tunes. It comes off as a largely play-it-safe effort that probably won’t earn Campbell any new fans, but also won’t alienate those who liked his first album.

Grade: B

Occasional Hope’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

2011 wasn’t the best year for country, but there was still some very good music to be found if you looked for it.  Just missing the cut for my personal top 10 were fine records by the excellent Sunny Sweeney, country chart debutant Craig Campbell, independent artist Justin Haigh, blue collar bluegrass newcomer Scott Holstein, the compelling close harmonies of the Gibson Brothers,  and an enjoyable if not groundbreaking live set from Amber Digby which flew under the radar.

So what did make my cut? Read more of this post

Album Review: Craig Campbell – ‘Craig Campbell’

Craig Campbell is a relatively new artist on the successful independent label Bigger Picture, helmed by famed producer Keith Stegall. He has a single rising up the country charts, but had managed to fly under my radar until a week or so ago, when C M Wilcox pointed out Craig’s song ‘You Probably Ain’t in a recent edition of Quotable Country over at Country California, his witty weekly take on the more notable or bizarre comments made relating to country music. That song appears on Craig’s self-titled debut album, which has just been released.

A lot of country fans seem to be getting tired of the seemingly unending assembly line of songs telling us how very country the singer is, often set to a notably un-country melody or production. Country radio, however, A lot of country fans seem to be getting tired of the seemingly unending assembly line of songs telling us how very country the singer is, often set to a notably un-country melody or production. Country radio is as keen on such fare as ever, but it looks as if Craig Campbell, Keith Stegall, and Michael White. writers of this song, share our frustration:

You can talk to me about tractors
Cowboy boots and pickup trucks
Old canepoles and dirt roads
And spit and skoal and a dixie cup
You can tell me (all a)bout your grandpa
And how he turned you on to Hank
If you gotta tell me how country you are
You probably ain’t

But if this initially seems to be a well-deserved sharp and well deserved little jab at the popular “I’m country” songs, in some ways, it is what it appears to disparage, when the old man in the bar who has voiced the comment adds:

He said, country is a way of life that’s almost gone
It’s about being honest and working hard
Looking someone in the eye and
Being who you say you are

I’m afraid I’m not convinced that everyone in rural areas is (or used to be) honest and hardworking, so although I still like the complete song, and love the chorus, it doesn’t really hold up lyrically for me as a whole. On the positive side, Craig has a fine voice, and at least this is a well written and genuinely country song.

And if Craig is critical of those posturing about country lifestyles, he does not eschew the subject himself. The likeable ‘Chillaxin’’ is not very ambitious, but has an attractive tune, and a lovely and appropriately relaxed feel, which could make it a summer hit. The next single, however, is reportedly, the rather dull ‘Fish’, which is rather like one of Brad Paisley’s lesser songs, trying to be amusing but falling short, and not even successful at the double entendre it tries for. Carson Chamberlain and Tim Nichols helped Craig write ‘That’s Music To Me’, with nods to Keith Whitley and Merle Haggard as well as the usual litany of high school football, family life, church on Sunday mornings and the Georgia scenery. It’s quite a good example of its kind, with another pleasing melody, and Craig sells the genuineness of the emotion underlying it, but it’s hardly groundbreaking lyrically:

Soaked in the whiskey and washed in the blood
That’s who I am and what I love
A hoe down fiddle, a little off key
An old hound dog howling
That’s music to me

The very perky ‘Makes You Wanna Sing’ (written by Craig with Rob Hatch and Lance Miller) glorifies the simple pleasures in life (and yes, rural ones), and the humming on the chorus gets irritating with repeat listens.

Others will have been introduced to Craig by way of his charming current single ‘Family Man’. This paints a realistic picture of a hard-pressed married man desperate to keep his temporary factory job to support his wife and kids, and is filled with genuine warmth and sincerity as he relates the various responsibilities of a father and shows how important his kids are to him. ‘My Little Cowboy’ (about striving to live up to his father’s belief in him, first as a child and then as struggling musician trying to support a wife and child of his own) is a little more heavy handed lyrically and offers a heavier vibe musically, which is less suited to Craig’s voice.

Trying to make ends meet in hard times also inspires the cheerful and very catchy mid-tempo response to a debt collector, ‘When I Get It’, which he wrote with Jason Matthews and Jim McCormick, although I found the na-na-nas in the chorus annoying.

One of the highlights is the interesting and nicely paced ‘I Bought It’, written by Craig with Philip Douglas and Dan Murphy. It starts out sweetly with a young couple just starting out in life together, with him buying a ring, the the mood sours with her infidelity and lies (which he also buys), and finally there is a little twist in the tale when he lies to her that he is willing to take her back.

Craig and/or his writing partners have a good ear for melody which is more consistent that their lyric writing, which is occasionally a little cliche’d. He co-wrote most of the songs, with only a couple from outside writers, one of which is provided by his producer. Keith Stegall wrote the seductive fiddle-led ‘All Night To Get There’ with Craig’s friend Lee Brice and Vicky McGehee. The only completely outside song is ‘That Going Away Look (About Her)’, written by Carson Chamberlain, Wade Kirby and Michael White, a well-written third-person account of a couple on the brink of separation, with a lovely mellow sound, which sounds like an outtake from Chamberlain’s protégé Easton Corbin.

Keith Stegall produces with his usual reliable light touch, offering sympathetic support for the young Georgia-born singer, whose voice is the real star here. His warm vocals with a lovely smooth tone are a delight to listen to, even on the less stellar material – rather like the aforementioned Corbin. Overall it’s a very likeable project and one showing great promise for the future. I certainly hope his career goes well and we hear more from him.

I am, incidentally, less than impressed by the packaging of the physical product. The CD liner notes are unfortunately almost entirely illegible thanks to being squeezed into a minuscule space to make room for a lot of pictures.

Grade: B+