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Kate Campbell

1000 Pound Machine – 2012 (Large River)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Kate Campbell

Over the course of a dozen albums and nearly 20 years, Kate Campbell's proudly proclaimed her southern birthright and her affinity for crafting story songs that would surely find the literary keepers of that heritage - Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor and Larry Brown among them - offering their nods of authenticity. Her appeal lies not only in her ability to create riveting characters to relay these tales, but also in her talent for inhabiting these hapless narratives as well, investing them with an emotional resilience that gives each a southern gothic feel.

That said, "1000 Pound Hammer" may be Campbell's darkest effort to date, a song cycle that reflects a world-weary view seemingly wrought from the seamier side of that southern milieu. She sketches intimate portraits of those kicked to the curb by society - the hopeless seekers, the perpetual wanderers, ex-cons, small town losers, those in search of redemption for sins they hoped to avoid. All fall prey to the despair Campbell hopes to mitigate in the singularly uplifting I Will Be Your Rest:

"When you have fought every good fight
Tried with all your strength and might
But cannot lift your sword
And that dragon's at your door..."

Producer Will Kimbrough, no slacker himself when it comes to etching authenticity, imbues these songs with a concise clarity that leaves little to the imagination. Reminiscent of Randy Newman, Tom Waits and John Prine in both simplicity and stance, the songs are borne mainly by stoic piano and an antebellum approach, be it the rustic set-up of Red Clay After Rain and the somber despair of Alabama Department of Corrections Meditation Blues or the tattered reflection of Wait For Another Day and the scattershot determination of God Bless You Arthur Blessitt. There's little joy in these melancholy musings, but taken in tandem, a clear brilliance shines from within.