Alabama gal KATE CAMPBELL has been carving out a respected niche in the competitive Americana stakes for a decade or more now. Her acclaimed debut 'Songs From The Levee' dates back to 1995 (where does the time go, huh?) and since that time she's released several other must-haves, not least 2003's 'Monuments' and 2006's Spooner Oldham-produced 'For The Living Of These Days'.
And, even after a couple of cursory listens, it's clearly apparent that 'Save The Day' is going to join these illustrious predecessors on the 'essential' list. Again teaming up with producer/ co-writer and fellow Alabama native Walt Aldridge, it's a finely-realised outing giving equal billing to personal'n'downhome country-folk, soulful ballads and even a couple of surprisingly effective and urgent rockers.
The opening title track is one of the latter. It finds Campbell's voice in truly excellent nick and her band really getting behind the infectious, mid-paced sway of the groove, while the song's well-observed, 'waiting for a superman' message (“a big mansion in the Hamptons/ or a warm place to sleep tonight?”) seems especially memorable bearing in mind I'm writing this on the day Barack Obama has been elected as the new American president.
It immediately sets a high standard, but it's one Campbell, Aldridge and co. have little bother maintaining as this resonant album unfolds. Lyrically, Campbell's naturally compassionate, humanitarian bent matches her passionate, Southern-tinged vocal delivery pound for pound and ensures that gorgeous country-tinged ballads such as 'More Than One Day' and the impressive, blues-tinted tale of racial inequality 'Colour Of Love' are soon sounding like classics-in-waiting.
Elsewhere, Kate displays a nice, wry sense of humour on songs like 'Looking For Jesus' (“well, I heard about a man who saw his face one morning at breakfast in a bowl of cornflakes/ sold it to another soul on E-Bay”) and the tremendous, Gospel-style 'Everybody Knows Elvis' where she looks at perhaps the world's two greatest myths with an especially affecting eye (“did you know him when he couldn't sleep unstoned?/ did you know him when he died all alone?”). She's great at framing sad little slices of life, too, as the sparse, banjo-fuelled 'Welcome To Ray' demonstrates. Indeed, when Campbell sings of “trailers that line the lane, mobile homes that came to stay/ now the welcome sign is all that's left of Ray”: she perfectly captures the premature Ghost Town-ization of a once hopeful little town in one neat couplet.
Kate's Southern spirit is never far away either. The gloriously-poised 'Dark Night Of The Soul' oozes glorious Muscle Shoals-style soul and leaks heavenly Hammond organ; the purposeful, four-square anthem 'Shining Like The Sun' swings with a proud, Byrds-y spangle, but is still kissed with Nashville's special stardust and – perhaps best of all – there's the magnificent, Harper Lee-inspired 'Sorrowfree', which is framed by Spooner Oldham's stately piano and arguably Kate's most drop-dead gorgeous vocal of all. To describe it as merely a 'tear-jerker' does it a grave disservice, as it's certainly one of the most affecting things this reviewer has heard this year. It's a beautifully poignant way to sign off on and one of those songs which transcends genre with ease.
It's been one of those unwritten music biz laws that artists are supposed to begin their careers in a blaze of glory and gradually begin to slide somewhere after their third or fourth albums. Clearly no-one told Kate Campbell, however, as she continues to go her own sweet way and quietly jump from one triumph to another. 'Save The Day' finds her raising the bar yet again, but instead of wondering how she'll better it for the time being, let's simply savour the wall-to-wall riches on offer here. On such occasions, it really is all we need do.