MORRY CAMPBELL “Long Way Home”
At the risk of sounding cliched, sometimes a picture really can evoke a thousand words. In the case of Morry Campbell’s debut album “Long Way Home”, the cover art is the picture, and it’s indeed worth a thousand words (Or shall we say “lyrics”?), even before the listener puts “Long Way Home” on for its first spin. The cover photo shows the New York City-based singer-songwriter, barefoot and with only a guitar in the way of possessions. He’s standing against a landscape, possibly a lost highway, which is clearly NOT New York City. The look on his face is slightly wary yet eager, as if he’s somewhat uncertain about what that road ahead might bring…yet we also sense a hint of excitement about where the anticipated journey takes him, including any surprises that may pop up along the way. Audiences who have appreciated Campbell’s past work, both live and on disc, will definitely get a good serving of excitement with “Long Way Home”, and even the artist’s most ardent supporters will gets a few surprises along this 14-song musical journey. In addition to the fair share of pure, stripped-down, guitar-and-vocals work, Campbell does a great deal of top-notch… shall we say, “experimentation”. Many of the tracks, such as “Fly Fishing in My Head” and “Ace of Diamonds”, have more than enough casual radio appeal to rival the entire Top 10 “Most Downloaded” List on ITunes.
The album opens with “Black and White”, a stark, thoughtful, almost melancholy track. The simplicity of this piece (acoustic guitar and vocals only, accented by some truly moody cello, courtesy of Ilya Levitin) really pushes Campbell’s voice to the forefront in all its raw glory. His voice is undeniably solid, strong, and grounded– earthy yet soulful. Bryan Adams, without the gravelly quality, comes to mind. In addition, however, Campbell’s “vox” also possesses an ethereal quality which surfaces from time to time, as if elevation to a higher plane of consciousness is necessary to convey all the required emotions and feelings. We hear traces of this transcendence even on his most bare performances, starting with “Black and White”. (Remember this otherworldly quality; it comes out in a big way much later on in the CD!) Following “Black and White” is “Long Long Way Home”, a highly emotional piece which may be Campbell’s most personal creation– and which may become his most emblematic song as well. In the spirit of the best of American country/folk music, the track reinvents the classic, oft-retold tale of being finding yourself– physically and/or spiritually– in a place that’s not what we call home. It’s Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” for 2008: “Summer days with you and I, And the flowers and the sky; Play on the whitewashed screen behind my eyes. No surprise; That I should find without you its a long way– a long, long, long way home… A long way home“. Musicians independent and major label alike can relate to the song as a metaphor for being on the road, or even for the journey of the creative process of making an album. Male and female background vocals (Katie Sawicki and Robert Urban, respectively) really bolster the track, as does the harmonica and gentle guitar strumming throughout. Moving from pure Americana to pure fantasy, Campbell resurrects a little-known cult song named “Leatherwing Bat”, which was probably heard by the biggest audience when it was sung by Judy Collins on “The Muppet Show” in 1978. It had also been performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary— adding to its folk legacy. With atmospheric drums strumming throughout and a chorus made to sing along with (“Howdy dowdy diddle all day, Howdy dowdy diddle all day; Howdy dowdy diddle all day, Lo lo lee de diddle-e-o!…”) , “Leatherwing Bat” is a true musical journey through an enchanted forest. A forest, incidentally, which features a lively cast of characters including randy woodpeckers, bluebirds, and robins. Superb performance aside (Campbell hits some awe-inspiring notes, and the guitar work is no less than revolutionary.), this artist deserves big praise for reviving this gem of a song. While “You Conquered”, later on in the album, is no more and no less than a beautiful and highly original love song, the musical adrenaline really starts pumping with the invigorating “Walking on Water”, another of the album’s gems. A duet with lusty-voiced singer-songwriter Roger Kuhn, the message of the song is how sexual ecstasy and spiritual ecstasy parallel each other. The contrasting vocal styles of Campbell and Kuhn are very striking. This reviewer, for one, envisions “Walking on Water” as the perfect anthem for the idealized story of man-to-man love– which the Bible forgot to tell. The ethereal, mid-tempo “Ace of Diamonds”.(“I can make whatever I believe, got an ace of diamonds up my sleeve…”) is a daydream set to music, with an energizing rift running through. The piano, courtesy of singer-songwriter Dan Manjovi, is the reigning sound for this one.
“Monkey Song #5” is a dynamic,retro-flavored track with swirly grooves and a psychedelic aura– a clear musical homage to the ’60’s, with fantastical lyrics and high energy to match. “Smashing” is the word! “Fly Fishing In My Head”, another of the highlights on the album, is a song about pure escapism, with lyrics that will clearly be identified with any creative soul who has ever felt trapped by the proverbial “day job” that’s not particularly rewarding or interesting. The buoyant mood of the track is really elevated by Campbell’s delivery and some dynamic guitar work. Many different meanings can be interpreted from the hypnotic “Sleep in the Morning”. Just what is this one about? Addiction? Depression? Being lost in a surreal state? Campbell hits some amazing high notes on this track, and a stimulating-yet-soothing underlying guitar rhythm runs through.
Morry Campbell doesn’t waste a single note on “Long Way Home”. He perfectly merges sounds and lyrics (Appropriately aggressive electric guitar work blends with mirthfully angstful lyrics in “On My Own”; quirky sound effects abound in the joyously fantastical “Just Another Dream”… .), and he incorporates classically trained musical skills with superb state-of-the-art 2008 production values– with a fine cast of supporting musicians. So, once again we return to the cover art for “Long Way Home”. It’s no longer just a snapshot of Campbell’s road from his home state of Montana to the Manhattan indie music scene, as much as a promise fulfilled to his audience. It’s now the listener who has experienced a very eventful and inspiring journey.