Saturday, April 26, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews - Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters

“ ... This CD is proof that traditions are still being passed from generation to generation. Thanks to guys like Johnny Campbell, this music will never fade.”

                                                                                   - Marty Warburton / Prescription Bluegrass

os·mo·sis [ oz-moh-sis ] noun  1. a subtle or gradual absorption due to association or mingling: “Some of the students neglected to study, but seemed to learn by osmosis.”

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE  -  CD REVIEWUpon giving Johnny Campbell's self titled CD several rides in the F-150 listening room I vowed that I would use the word “osmosis” somewhere in this review. I just did. Why go there? I'm glad you asked.

Johnny is a third generation fiddle player that grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Not only did Johnny's Dad and Grandpa play fiddle, but his older brother Jimmy played fiddle extensively with Jim & Jesse as well as Bill Monroe.

Here is a fact of musical reality; When you grow up around a Grandpa that plays fiddle, and you grow up in a house where your Dad and brother plays fiddle, you are setting your self up for this whole “osmosis” phenomenon.

I don't personally know the Campbell family, but I am willing to bet that Dad, Grandpa and Jimmy not only played fiddle but could play rhythm guitar or mandolin when a jam demanded it. Jams that broke out quite regularly. And in the event of an emergency, each one could probably hop on the bass fiddle too.

Perhaps a form of child abuse, Johnny was forced to play rhythm guitar at the tender age of 6 years old. No doubt for those 20 minute Saturday night jam versions of Sally Goodin' or Soldier's Joy. There otta be a law. You cannot grow up in an environment like that without the “subtle, gradual absorption” that we now know as osmosis taking effect. I would love to have been able to sit in on some of those old school all night jams that Johnny was lucky enough to grow up with. When you are around that much music, “subtle and gradual absorption” is a given. Oh how the rest of the 6 year olds in the world are missing out.

Jump ahead 35 years. Johnny Campbell, fully osmotized, over the years having graduated from rhythm guitar to fiddle, is now the front man for his own band “The Bluegrass Drifters.” He and the Drifters have crowded around the microphones to record this their first CD. And I mean this literally. This is a live recording. Johnny and Whitney Campbell are quoted as saying “ In the tradition of our bluegrass forefathers, we crowded around our mics and cut each song live.” No multi-tracking, no over dubs, no isolation problem. The musicianship, recording, engineering and mixing is well executed throughout.

As we discussed earlier, it is easy to understand the influence of Johnny's fiddle playing patriarchy.

The Monroe vibe is highly conspicuous on nearly every cut. However Johnny and the Drifters are brave enough to stray, ever so slightly, from Monroe-ism with their rendition of Jimmy Henson's folky “Lonesome Feeling.” The Bluegrass Drifter's cover of traditional / public domain song “Gospel Plow” tells me that they may have even listened to a few Nashville Bluegrass Band tunes along the way. Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters mix of the oldish and newish works well on this CD. Intertwined are several of Johnny's original compositions that fit like a glove. My ears perked up when I heard the Dobro / Fiddle harmonies on instrumental “Runnin' Late.”

The Bluegrass Drifters consist of Whitney Campbell / bass and vocals, Amanda Fields / guitar and vocals, Jeff Burke / mandolin and guitar and Luke Munday on banjo. Others invited to sit in on this recording are Chris Carter / banjo, Larry Chun / guitar, Nick DiSebastion / guitar, Chris Henry / banjo, Ian O'Bryant / Dobro and Kyle Tuttle on banjo. These folks can mash on it. No doubt about it.

I wish osmosis was a more thorough way of learning a craft. If that were the case, I would immediately move in next door to Vince Gill, wake up the next day and sing non-stop. Alas, I suppose osmosis ( dang I love that word ) can only take one so far. Singing bluegrass is not an easy thing to do. It's work, it's elusive and it's difficult to teach. The trick is to keep going after it. Sing in the truck, sing in the shower, sing in church, sing in the shower at church. Just keep on leaning into that mic and lettin' it go. Eventually you will be able to pull the same precision, tone and emotion from your voice as you would from a good battle worn fiddle.

I will keep an eye out for Johnny Campbell & The Bluegrass Drifters out there on the festival circuit. I wish them success in this increasingly competitive bluegrass band business. This CD is proof that traditions are still being passed from generation to generation. Thanks to guys like Johnny Campbell, this music will never fade. Osmosis lives.

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