Friday, April 4, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews - Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters !

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS CD REVIEW  -  JOHNNY CAMPBELLBefore the days of home computers, digital terminology and ProTools, and before genre-bending Bluegrass influences like Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice and Alison Krauss, Bluegrass music was a simpler, more ‘earthy’ concoction.

With this recording effort, Johnny Campbell re-creates a pre-digital recording session where musicians gather around a single microphone in the studio and play until something is ‘good enough.’

This approach obviously has pros and cons. Gone is the prevailing ‘slickness’ of modern recordings. Also, there is no separation of instruments and voices, so the balance and mix is marginal.

There are no auto-corrections, digital pitch modifications or other recording ‘tricks’ that dominate modern recordings, so the instrumental breaks and back-up, as well as the vocals, are raw and unrefined. Occasionally, sub-par tuning is even present.

Modern recording software makes it easy to digitally manipulate and correct such things as these, as well as bad or ‘pitchy’ notes, sloppy timing, weak instrumental breaks and imperfect vocalizing to produce a recording that is more balanced, refined and pleasing for the modern listener accustomed to a bright, crisp, clear and precise musical product.

"This is the recording quality and ‘feel’ of Bluegrass productions in a bygone era."

Johnny Campbell and wife, Whitney Campbell’s recording captures a recording sound that was common until the early 1980’s and that some Bluegrass listeners might find refreshing, in a musically rugged, bare-bones sort of way. This is the recording quality and ‘feel’ of Bluegrass productions in a bygone era.

This project features twelve selections including four original works with the balance ranging from cuts like Curly Seckler’s, Old Book of Mine and Bill Monroe’s Letter from My Darling to Dan Seals’ Heading West. There’s not much in the way of personal artistic innovation here, just old-timey Bluegrass such as might appear at a large regional Bluegrass festival.

The overall feel of this CD is very traditional. Vocal duos are Johnny and Whitney’s forte and the vocal cuts are exclusively those of Johnny and Whitney, who blend quite well. One of my favorites is their original song Angel From on High, which features Whitney’s lonesome and lower-register vocal timbre. Chris Henry also provides excellent mandolin support. Other favorite cuts include Whitney Campbell’s original composition, Tear Down the Walls, that features her lead vocals, and the opening track, Gospel Plow, which highlights Johnny’s lead singing and some fine reso-guitar playing by Ian O’Bryant.

Johnny Campbell provides more than adequate fiddle support and the rest of the musicians are above competent, though with few apparent opportunities to really shine (probably due in part to the demanding recording conditions—single mic). There is also very little bass presence throughout the recording, a characteristic sorely missing. That said, there’s still plenty of good music here.

If you’re looking for a Bluegrass CD with the older, pre-1980’s sound, with fine duo vocals, good fiddling and excellent song selection, then this recording is for you. This is a product Johnny and Whitney Campbell can be proud of and I look forward to hearing what they produce next.

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