by Matt Bjorke
In the lyrics of “You Probably Ain’t,” Craig Campbell takes offense to all of the “I’m Country” songs that have come out these past few years and with that he’s calling out most of his contemporaries in country music with this chorus:
“You can talk to me about Tractors, cowboy boots and pickup trucks,
old cane poles and dirt roads and spittin’ skoal in a Dixie cup
You can tell me all about your Grandpa and how he turned you on to Hank
If you gotta Tell Me How Country You Are, you know what, you probably ain’t.”
From that fiddle and steel-guitar drenched mid-tempo song, you know this ain’t another exercise in bombastic southern rock influenced country music. In fact, listening to Craig Campbell is like the first time I heard Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson’s debut albums. A star is born. Working with Keith Stegall in the producer’s chair, Craig’s bound to be compared to Alan Jackson the most, particularly with a vocal phrasing that recalls Alan at times but he’s certainly his own artist.
Fans are most likely familiar with the hit debut single “Family Man.” Written by Craig when his daughter was a newborn, the song strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled to put bread on the table for their family. The melody is inviting and the vocal is solid neo-traditionalist. The whole Craig Campbell album is bristling with hits. “When I Get It” is another song people living paycheck-to-paycheck will relate to as well. The lyrics discuss bill collectors, ex-wives and friendly bets but the most striking line might be “You can’t get blood from a stone.” We’ve heard “Blood from a turnip” but not this line. “I Bought It” finds Craig discussing how love sometime overtakes one’s realities in life. The melodies of these two latter songs bristles with fiddles, steel guitars and there’s no doubt Craig Campbell is a country singer and his years of singing at The Stage in Nashville have certainly helped him hone-in on who he is as a singer.
“Fish” is a likely single from Craig Campbell at some point and that’d be fine by me as it’s an interesting song written by Craig with Ashe Underwood and Arlos Smith (“Mayberry”). The tune has a little ‘southern rock’ vibe to it but the fiddle’s bristling in the background and yeah, there’s some double entendres in the clever lyrics but for any guy who really does love fishing, they wanna catch themselves a woman who ‘looks great with that rod in her hands.’ I am actually surprised a song like this hadn’t come out sooner, particularly from someone like Brad Paisley. If you’re a fan of the laid-back tunes like “People Are Crazy” from Billy Currington, you will really like “Chillaxin’, a tune perfect for a lazy warm day’s playlist.
As a co-writer of all but "That Going Away Look (About Her)" and the album closer “All Night To Get There,” each of the 11 tunes on Craig Campbell’s self-titled album comes from parts of his life and if they didn’t they’re not stretches from his life. One thing’s for sure. Craig Campbell’s country and he certainly doesn’t need to tell us how country he is. One of the best new albums I’ve heard so far this year. 2011 is shaping up to be a bumper crop full of great albums.