Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Moon Memories

In my three-tiered approach to music blogging for 2009, I have brought you two Saturdays of the 1950s charts, in summary. On Wednesdays, I am alternating between Really Old Music (ROM) and Really Interesting Female Artists (RIFA). Today, we look at our first RIFA.

But first, I want to let you know about a six-day music event that will be taking place beginning January 28, 2009 in a little town called Clear Lake, Iowa. Like many of us, I became aware of the deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in late 1971 via the epic single “American Pie.” I finally was able to visit the crash site in August, 2007, and I made a mental note to see what would be done to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. As it turns out, there will be a number of significant events at the Surf Ballroom, including a February 2 concert featuring Bobby Vee and an incredible array of artists. There are exhibits and symposia available during the day, concerts at night (some sold out, sorry), and the big show on the 50th anniversary of Buddy’s last concert. The event, run by Bobby Vee’s sons Jeff and Tommy, will be as fitting a tribute as can be imagined. Check out the details of 50 Winters Later. Go to Iowa.

I am a bit honked off that you won’t see me there. I planned 17 months ahead of time to show up, and I was planning to take the time off work and write up the event for a magazine, when I was asked (sort of told) that I was needed to chaperone a school trip to Spain beginning January 30. If you’re a casual music fan, it probably will strike you as smug that I claim to prefer Iowa over Spain that week, especially since Spain comes free to chaperones. But the serious music people here will get it, and, you know what? Spain will be here on February 3 and beyond, but this event will be history. Oh, I am steamed.

Now, the post:

Music journalists have, or used to have before the industry tanked, promo CDs tossed their way when an artist is coming to town. In my role as preview writer for the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in Bloomington, Indiana, I got Christmas in September each year for ten years, as all thirty or so acts sent me CDs. Some are great, some are good, some bring Festival memories to life.

The beauty of the Lotus Festival is its willingness to continue to book artists with a medium-sized following. Sometimes an artist catches on with the crowd, and by the end of the Festival, all of Bloomington is abuzz with that artist’s music and persona.

The woman who strolled into town on the strength of her sophomore album was unassuming, and she remains so. However, she had the courage to write personal songs of nostalgia that held a flavor so strongly regional that, if the stories didn’t resonate on a universal level, only Alabama and Georgia residents would have listened to them.

This acoustic guitarist/singer/songwriter was named Kate Campbell. She was born in 1961 in New Orleans, and you can hear it in her voice. Her vowels have more nuance to them than snowflakes have shapes, and she gives her final r’s a healthy dose of Southern grrrrit. She writes about women who want to escape the life the South has imposed on them, about musicians who make it sort of big and then pay through the nose for it, and about the moon.

The album she was promoting in 1997 was Moonpie Dreams (Compass 4238), and its fascination with cars, Southern tourist meccas and deeply Southern individuals served to expand the region’s cachet into the rest of the country, rather than shrink its listener base. It helped that her producer was Johnny Pierce, who has since been collecting Grammy nominations for his production work. The album earned some love: at the 1997 Nashville Music Awards, it was nominated for Folk Album of the Year. Mojo Magazine called it the Country Album of the Year.

In October, 2008, Kate released her twelfth album, Save the Day. Her songs here show a career-long theme of literary references, and she has earned the vocal and instrumental participation of the likes of Spooner Oldham, Nanci Griffith, John Prine and Mac McAnally.

As much as she has grown as a songwriter over the years, I don’t think any of her work will, for me, overshadow Moonpie Dreams, on which she worked a reference to the moon into every song. The cohesive view of life in the everyday South is one of the few façade-free looks into that part of the world that I have ever come across. Instead of singing about a girl who thinks some guy’s tractor is sexy, Kate sings about a woman who wants to see Rock City and Lookout Mountain.

I’m choosing for you two of the songs that typify Kate’s worldview on Moonpie Dreams. I hope you enjoy them, despite your lack of memories to transport you back to warm September evenings in 1997, when Kate came to town to play these songs for us.

Saturday, it’s more 1950s chart action, and a week from now, I’ll go back to the pioneer days of music. See you Saturday!

Kate Campbell, See Rock City

Kate Campbell, Bascom’s Blues

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