Music Review: Eddie C Campbell - Tear This World Up
Usually when someone says something like, "I don't know much about art but I know what I like" it's an indication that their preferences are for black velvet or dogs playing poker. On the other hand when a person is faced with the barrage of sub-genres in music that seems to be the vogue these days, it's perfectly understandable for them to say, "I don't much about it, but I know the blues when I hear it". I've stopped counting how many supposedly different types of blues there are, as it seems like every region in North America, if not the world, now deems the blues played in their territory significantly unique to qualify for its own sub-category.
However, unlike painting where there is more than just a stylistic differences between a black velvet poster of Elvis and a Chagal, beneath the surface of every blues genre beats the same heart no matter how its played. How else could you explain so many different styles of music rightfully calling themselves blues if there wasn't some sort of common denominator tying music played on a solo acoustic guitar with that played by a five piece electric band with a horn section? I don't mean the chords played either. There are who knows how many, rock and roll bands, from the heaviest metal heads on down, that use the standard blues progression in their music, but you'd never call them blues bands,
No, there's an almost indescribable something blues bands and performers have that hits you solidly between the eyes letting you know they are without a doubt. a blues band. Such is the case with the latest Eddie C Campbell release on Delmark Records, Tear This World Up. Stylistically it veers all over the place, from R&B, funk, to standards like Gershwin's "Summertime", but each and every cut on the disc is undisputedly a blues song. Campbell has a long history of playing, starting off his career at a young age sitting in with Muddy Watters, and proceeding to play with a who's who of Chicago blues stars through out the fifties and sixties. However, he didn't release any recordings of his own, aside from a couple of singles with small labels, until 1977's King Of The Jungle.
Like so many other blues people before and since, Campbell sought out the bluer pastures of Europe for nearly a decade, spending most of the 1980's recording in England, Holland, and Germany, only returning to the States in 1992. Tear The World Up is his fourth release since then, and it shows just how versatile a player and singer he is. After years of playing with a variety of people, from James Brown to Howlin' Wolf, he's developed his own unique style that incorporates a little of everything he's picked up along the way. Binding it all together is his deeply felt awareness of the blues.
For like all the great players, Campbell has an intrinsic understanding of what it takes to play the blues. Listening to the fourteen tracks on this release is like taking a guided tour of the history of the blues. For he covers music from people who he's played with and known all his life like Magic Slim's "Easy Baby" and "Love Me With A Feeling" or Howlin' Wolf's "I'm Just Your Fool". However some of the best indications of his talents lie in his own compositions. Take "Big World" for example, where he stands the whole blues idiom on its head by making fun of a man complaining about his woman, but the music is as pure as any blues you'd want.
While he's not afraid of laughing at the himself, and how overwrought some blues musicians can get over their women done do them wrong songs, that doesn't mean he doesn't take his blues seriously. Listen to his "Summertime" if you think otherwise. What's wonderful about his version is that while he respects the sentiment of the original he doesn't wed himself to the slow, almost ponderous, pace that so many others seem to think it needs to be played at. Instead he takes it and makes it the uplifting song the lyrics suggest it can be. Yes birds are flying in this summertime, and the living is easy, but it's also a lot more fun than normal.
On most blues discs you're liable to hear only one style of blues being played, depending on what part of the world the musicians hail from. That's not the case with Campbell as he's equally comfortable playing in front of a full horn section as he is with just your standard four piece band. The other thing you quickly realize is he understands that the whole idea of blues music is to help you forget your troubles. While some guys, and gals, might do that by being as blue as they can be for you to help you forget your own problems, Campbell is just as likely to play a tune that will pull you to your feat and get you dancing your blues away.
There was this great photo of Campbell that came with the Delmark publicity materials that shows him from sometime in the 1970's looking like he could have just stepped off the stage from jamming with Sly Stone or Parliament. The spirit of the funk music and driving horns that propelled those two groups can be heard in his music even today. It gives his music a snap and pace that you'd not expect to find even on an electric blues recording. While there's a definite power to the usual twelve bar electric blues, too much of even the best things can start to drag after a while. So the various change of paces throughout Tear This World Up are not only a relief, but also keep you listening a lot closer than you might under normal circumstances as you wait to hear what's coming next.
Eddie C Campbell has been around the blues most of his life, and been close friends and played with the men and women we've come to associate with the sound of electric blues. However, instead of merely emulating these people Campbell has taken their sound as his starting place and pushes the blues in as many directions as he possibly can while still holding onto what makes them what they are. Not all the material on this disc may sound like what you're used to when it comes to electric blues, but don't worry, because what beats beneath the surface of each track is the heart of a true bluesman.