KATE CAMPBELL "Blues and Lamentations" Large River

Friday, September 30, 2005

KATE CAMPBELL"Blues and Lamentations"Large River

"Palms of Victory" is a pre-Civil War gospel hymn recorded by the Carter Family and the Country Gentlemen; Bob Dylan rewrote the tune as a Civil Rights anthem called "Paths of Victory," and an anonymous 19th-century singer rewrote it as "Pans of Biscuits," the tale of a farmer who can't afford meat for dinner. It's the latter version that Kate Campbell sings in a Delta warble on her new album, "Blues and Lamentations." It provides the template for the whole project.

The 10 songs that Campbell wrote or co-wrote for the album are drawn from the deep wells of Carter Family hymns and Delta blues and adapted with a Dylanesque sensibility and an appreciation for such domestic details as biscuits and gravy. Backed by an all-acoustic string band, she sings with the patient drawl of her North Mississippi childhood, the sharp-eyed skepticism of the university balanced by the yearning hope of the church.

Bluegrass mandolin pushes along "Freedom Train," a song about Harriet Tubman co-written with Kevin Gordon, and Dixieland horns undergird "New Blues," co-written with the album's producer, Walt Aldridge. On "Peace Comes Stealing Slow," the verses sketch vivid images of a young soldier crouched in a foxhole and an old woman sleeping on a sidewalk. But the chorus reaches back to another gospel hymn, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and employs the swelling harmonies of Campbell and Maura O'Connell to offer solace to even these lost souls.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Thursday at Jammin' Java.

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