The quote from Flannery O'Connor on the cover of Kate Campbell's fourth and latest album reads, "Art is something that one experiences alone and for the purpose of realizing in a fresh way, through the senses, the mystery of existence." Campbell's music, finely crafted folk and country-rock songs featuring richly peopled narratives, rises to that high standard. Often compared to Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Campbell creates music that's sweet and strong, her voice true. As the title Rosaryville suggests, Campbell expresses a spirituality influenced by the Roman Catholic tradition, writing of women and men who've found something to hold on to, a faith in God that sustains against the harshness of life. Especially moving are her tales of a woman making Cuban cigars and dreaming of her reunited family, and a man who creates a rosary of bowling balls in his garden. Songwriters of this depth and sensitivity are rare. - Brian Quincy Newcomb
The Gospel Accordion II (HTS)
Mulehead plays rock and roll with a decidedly rootsy, country-garage vibe, hinting at "no depression" musical values not too far from the likes of Violent Femmes and Southern Culture on the Skids. Singer Kevin Kerby's view of Southern life includes surreal dichotomies: in his town there's a Baptist church just past the liquor store, and life is lived "between the Holy Spirit and a good buzz." Dominated by party songs and drunken lost-love ditties, Gospel Accordion also reflects on the spiritual aspects of everyday crises of the heart. "Glad to Be Here" seeks to take pleasure in life itself despite one's existence seeming so temporary. "Pilate" finds the Roman governor offering his own version of Jesus' crucifixion--from hell, of course. Add to these the comical "Cheap Red Wine" and "When the Dope Ran Out (So Did She)," and you've got yourself a real slice of American life. -- Brian Q. Newcomb
Clapton Chronicles: The Best of Eric Clapton (Reprise)
This isn't "the best of Eric Clapton," obviously--it's the hits of Eric Clapton, 1985-1998. Those who've forgotten that Clapton had hits from '85 to '89 will be reminded of why they forgot. For all their stadium-sized hooks, "Pretending," "Forever Man," and "It's in the Way That You Use It" testify to the difficulty of translating the music of an artist known for his blues power and Tulsa shuffle into high-tech bombast. On the other hand, the hits from '92 to '98 testify just as persuasively to the capacity of cushiony pop to accommodate hard-won maturity. Few will fail to hear "My Father's Eyes" and "Tears in Heaven" as humble attempts to hope and reach for meaning. Even the two new cushiony-pop songs sound like more than afterthoughts. What doesn't is the Bo Diddley cover and the unplugged "Layla." If only Warner Bros. had gone back to '83, they could've included "I've Got a Rock n' Roll Heart."
-- Arsenio Orteza