Kate Campbell’s songs have been permeated by the surroundings and history of her upbringing. She was born in New Orleans and lived in the Mississippi Delta. Growing up in this culture brings an authenticity to the stories her songs tell. She has a lovely, lyrical voice that is a pleasure to listen to, making the pain and suffering in her songs’ stories palatable.
“Miles of Blues” is a country song in the style that they used to make before Nashville and some artists changed what that word meant in the ’90s. It is about the universality of the blues and commonality that we, as Americans, share, even though Los Angeles is the only city with any distance west of the Mississippi River that is mentioned, but the sentiment is achieved.
“Pans of Biscuits” is a traditional song that sees Guy Clark join her for a duet. A poor cotton farmer has worked hard his entire life, barely able to make ends meet, whose children have left home. He’s poor, but he’s still able to put “pans of biscuits/bowls of gravy” on the table.
“New Blues” sounds like a classic old song. They should have added some studio effects of a scratched-up record because the horns and clarinet give it the sound of ’20s or ’30s New Orleans jazz. The story is of someone so put upon for so long that they would just like a different set of troubles to deal with because the ones they have make them feel like a modern-day Job.
“Shallow Grave” is a great song that honestly displays the hurt and anger involved in the betrayal of a broken heart along with the desire to witness the karmic ramifications. It is a great companion to Tony Bennett’s “I Wanna Be Around.”
“Mining Camp Blues” is an old song by Trixie Smith from 1925. The slow shuffle of the tempo along with the horns and clarinet give the song an upbeat feel, which is in stark contrast to the subject matter of a young girl who loses her father working in the mines, yet it works wonderfully. The song is a great reminder of the struggles that workers and their families used to have to go through.
“Fade To Blue” is a somber song about a man struggling with the loss of woman and his efforts to hide his emotions behind “a mask/no one sees through”. I enjoyed the song, but wasn’t completely clear if the woman had died or just left him.
Campbell sings and accompanies herself on tambourine to what sounds like an old time gospel spiritual in the form of “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy”, but it is actually by Mississippi artist Jessie Mae Hemphill from 1987. She requests aid specifically for the gambler, the sinner, the motherless children and the war-torn peoples.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. “Free World” is about someone who is finally getting the opportunity to make decisions over their own life. It could be a young adult or anyone getting a fresh start, but because this is an album of the South, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was the tale of a slave about to be freed. “Wheels Within Wheels” tells the tale of Burrell Cannon, a Texas preacher, who nearly beat the Wright Brothers in developing the airplane, if it hadn’t been for his acceptance of divine intervention.
The very talented musicians that have been assembled create an outstanding Southern music sampler from country and bluegrass to gospel and Dixieland jazz. The album is entirely acoustic and the songs were performed in one take.
Campbell’s “Genesis Blues” contains the key line that encapsulates the entire album, “everything started with the blues.” It’s in the stories she tells and it’s in the music that’s played. Blues and Lamentations is a great collection of Americana.