Traditional country music is once again sounding like it’s in good hands. If Easton Corbin is around to carry on the sound of George Strait, then I believe we have found the next Alan Jackson. His name is Craig Campbell. His voice is straightforward and powerful, and his songs are down-to-earth portraits of real people from the American heartland. The impression that Craig Campbell makes comes as no surprise, given that the album’s producer is Keith Stegall (the guiding force behind Alan Jackson’s biggest hits).
This is country music for those of us who always loved country music — even before it was sometimes a sorry excuse for selling rock or pop. This is the real deal, and it could only come from a performer who is also just as real. After watching last week’s ACM Awards with performances by Steven Tyler, Rhianna and Sugarland, it is refreshing to hear that someone in country music whose authenticity is profoundly unapologetic: “It’s traditional, back-to-basics, true country music,” he says, “It’s what I am. I can’t be anything else.”
Craig Campbell has a timeless sound, one that has been passed down from Hank Williams Jr. and George Jones to Alan Jackson… and now it’s Campbell’s turn to make it his own and someday pass it along. He’s got a no-nonsense vocal style and a straightforward writing style (he co-wrote nine of the ten tracks on the album). Craig Campbell champions the music of what used to be called “working-class,” a term that has actually made no sense since most of the monarchies fell centuries ago. But you get the idea… These songs tell stories that are grounded in reality — usually from the point of view of one who keeps track of where their paycheck goes.
Production values are high on the album, with an emphasis on pedal steel, fiddle and twangy Telecaster leads that make me all happy inside. The only dud on the album is the sophomoric “Fish,” a song that tries to hard to be coy by relying on double entendres. It confuses the listener about what persona is being projected here (not a good idea for a debut artist). The song is rumored to be Campbell’s second single; I hope the rumor is just that.
Overall, though, it’s a great album if your idea of country music is still something that sounds like what a headliner at a county fair or in a honky-tonk should sound like. Finally… a new country artist that I actually hope to see in the lineup next time I find myself at The Opry. To preview or purchase Craig Campbell’s debut album on iTunes, click here.
“Family Man” – This hit single incorporates the centerpiece of his life, the source of his emotional strength and the reason he wakes up in the morning. The song is about an out-of-work husband and father who draws on the love of his family to stay positive despite hard times.
“Makes You Wanna Sang” – Here’s one of those songs that will make you happy the first time you hear it, and will make you sing along by the second time. Sure, it’s a simple tune. But then again, most of the great ones are, right?
“You Probably Ain’t” – It’s pretty hard not love a song with a lyric that ends: “If you gotta tell me how country you are, You probably ain’t.” This one has a steady, easy beat and a point of view that rides as comfortably as the bed of the pick-up truck that you rode in the back of growing up.
“All Night To Get There” - The perfect mix of elements to showcase what Craig Campbell is truly capable of — a steel guitar, with a supple fiddle commentary, a danceable beat, and an invitation to a real good time.
by Greg Victor