Four songs into his debut Boston area performance, Craig Campbell told the crowd, "In case you haven't all figured it out yet, we play country music."
Ah, that was pretty clear from the get go, Craig. You would not be mistaken for any of the pop and rocking country acts that get a lot of play on country radio, but aren't of the traditional ilk. For one, there's the instrumentation - a good chunk of fiddle and pedal steel. Second, there's a whole lot of drinking going on in these songs.
Campbell has been the rare bird (although a bit less so in these turbulent musical industry times), an indie artist on a label that has made headway in the commercial realm. The Georgian has enjoyed chart action with the serious Family Man, the jocular double entendre Fish and the current single about workingman's blues When I Get It.
In concert, Campbell came off as a graduate of Alan Jackson University. Vocally, one could hear Jackson singing many of the songs that Campbell did - meaning they hit the traditional country mark time and again while also being about blue collar, hard working values without pandering or chest beating how southern someone is (On his CD, he has a song about being real - You Probably Ain't - plain, simple and to the point about being real. Unfortunately, he didn't play it on this evening). There is a further connection between AJ and Campbell - Keith Stegall produces both of them.
Campbell went out on a bit of a limb by not entirely focusing on his self-titled debut disc, although playing more songs from it would have been welcome as well. He offered a few new songs, including the very fine I'm Just Sayin' and a ballad about his little girl that is probably both sappy and heartfelt (When She Grows Up of My Little Girl - Campbell didn't announce its name). The new material fit in well with the rest of Campbell's repertoire.
Campbell's veteran band was up to snuff as well, although it took a bit to tone down the drums of Chris Marquart. Campbell tended to lean more heavily on pedal steel player David Spires and fiddle/mandolin ace Shawn Bailey for the country vibe.
Campbell, who spent time both with Tracy Byrd and Luke Bryan, perhaps could have used a bit more pizzazz when it came to stage presence, but the songs more than made up for it.
One telling aspect of the show was the cover songs Campbell picked. He did a medley about half way through including Two Dozen Roses by Shenandoah, Killin' Time from Clint Black, Brand New Man from Brooks & Dunn (okay, that one rocked some) and Mountain Music from Alabama. He closed the 85-minute night out with another fishing song Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Fishin' in the Dark.
While it would have been preferable to hear Campbell play one of the medley songs in its entirety (the idea was to get the crowd, which may not have been overly familiar with Campbell, behind him), the overall statement Campbell made was that he played what he considered country songs and not some well-known rock song to engage the audience.
A good, welcome move. Campbell wore his country leanings on his musical heart. For that, he deserved a lot of credit, but even more so for knowing how to put it all together singing, playing and song-wise in a night of "country music."