Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kate Campbell – Two Nights in Texas

Two Nights in Texas
Large River

Since the release of her debut album, Songs from the Levee, in 1995, I’ve felt that Kate Campbell – who grew up in Mississippi – was one of the most compelling singer-songwriters of the Deep South. Her finely-crafted songs beautifully capture the essence of the South and its people, particularly the dramatic changes that began unfolding in the South during Kate’s childhood in the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement changed forever how people thought and acted.

Two Nights in Texas, recorded April 8-9, 2010 in Wimberley, Texas captures Kate’s warm voice, guitar and occasional piano – superbly backed by Sally Van Meter on Dobro, Scott Ainslie on guitar and banjo and Don Porterfield on bass – as she runs through a retrospective of original songs that, at 65 minutes, only scratches the surface of her rich catalog.

As noted, some of the most affecting of Kate’s songs are those documenting the Civil Rights Movement that she witnessed first-hand as a child in the Deep South in the ‘60s.

“Crazy in Alabama” captures that time and place vividly as she sings about the segregation that “never made one lick of sense,” the violence of the era as groups like the Klan tried to stand in the way of the inevitable changes that were coming – “And the train of change/Was coming fast to my hometown/We had the choice to climb on board/Or get run down” – and the civil rights marchers who “all held hands as they sand and wept/And freedom rang in every step.”

Other songs that recall that era include “Galaxie 500,” in which she recalls a child's joy at times spent in the family car only to have that joy shattered when the car radio announces the murder of Martin Luther King, and “A Cotton Field Away,” which captures that moment in time when white and black children finally encounter each other thanks to court-ordered desegregation and learn how much alike they really were.

Other highlights include “New South,” in which she observes how much contemporary pop culture has homogenized away much of the South’s distinctiveness making it much like anywhere else, “Tupelo’s To Far,” written from the perspective of Elvis Presley at a time when he might have wished he could go back to before stardom had overtaken his life, “See Rock City,” a third-person observation of a young woman’s quest for freedom from the small town life she grew up in, and the final medley of “Rosa’s Coronas/Lanterns on the Levee.” The first song in the finale is written from the perspective of a Cuban woman missing her daughter and granddaughter who’d escaped to America and wondering how they fared there while the second is an inspiring song of friendship, of love, of hope.

--Mike Regenstreif

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