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Kate Campbell gives up history, tries to make some

By Rachel Leibrock, July 1999

With the voice of a troubled angel and the jasmine-and-whiskey-scented prose of a hard-edged Southern belle, country/folk singer-songwriter Kate Campbell weaves deliciously intricate stories into a delicate, light tapestry of organ, piano, mandolin and guitar.

On the Mississippi native's fourth album, "Rosaryville," (Compass) the one-time college history professor mines the fertile stories of the Deep South to bring us the amazing and bizarre, beauty and mystery. Like the best Southern storytellers - Flannery O' Conner and Eudora Welty - Campbell crafts her work with elaborate detail and a sense of place.

Listening to such songs as "My Mother's House" and "Rosa's Coronas," one can almost feel papery thin, decades-old dress fabric between their fingers or smell the thick summer air of Havana.

On "Look Away," a sorrowful account of Southern culture on the skids is chronicled with fragile elegance: "I can still recall the night lightning burned the mansion down, we all stood in our pajamas on that hollowed southern ground when the flames had turned to ashes only blackened bricks remained and sixteen stately Doric columns there beneath a veil of gray "?"Rosaryville," with its themes of pan-generational relationships and folk narratives, intimately chronicles both Campbell's rich family history and her experiences growing up in the South.

Following the brilliant circus kaleidoscopic of her previous works - "Songs From the Levee," "Moonpie Dreams" and "Visions of Plenty" - "Rosaryville" is at once equally colorful yet infinitely more meaningful.

"I see the first three records as a trilogy, I look at them together as a whole," says Campbell, who now lives in Nashville. "This record, 'Rosaryville,' is apart from that. This is an intimate record for me and the listener as well."

The seeds for Rosaryville were sown following the death of a Dominican priest Campbell knew.

"When he died," she says, "he was buried at a place called Rosaryville down in Louisiana. The word "Rosaryville" sounded very poetic to me. That kind of spawned the writing process. The actual making of the record was a very personal process. I'm at that point in my art where I'm trying to understand how I am writing and what I am writing, 'Rosaryville' is about that artistic process."

Further inspiration came from Campbell's own mother. Driving through Nashville one day, Rosemary Clooney came on the radio, and Campbell was immediately taken back to another time.

"Her voice reminded me of my own mother's. Hers was the first voice I ever heard" she says, explaining the almost mythical link between a parent and child - whatever the age. "Parents never see us as others see us. My parents will always see me playing piano in the living room as a child."

Campbell describes the recording of "Rosaryville" - the first album she's produced - as a "magical experience."

"It kind of makes me nervous," she laughs. "It'll never be that easy again. Maybe the moon was in the right place. One of the purposes of 'Rosaryville' was to free myself and open myself up to new directions. For the first three records, I had worked with the same producers, and I felt like I had learned a lot. I was ready for it."

"I consider myself a late bloomer. I have a different approach to the business because I didn't just fall into it. I made a choice to do this," Campbell continues, explaining that, although she's played music since she was a child, it didn't become her focus until she reached her 30's. "I've written songs since I was a little girl. I felt like when I was 30. If I was going to do this I had to do it whole-heartedly. I can teach history when I'm 50."