A Review of the CD
"beneath the calm"
by fil campbell

"beneath the calm"
by fil campbell

Copyright: Fil Campbell/Lahaina 2002.
(Lahaina LMP 008)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam,daigress@hotmail.com, 7/02

Isn't it strange how artistes these days often refrain from using capital letters for their album titles? But here we have a veritable e.e.cummings: this lady dispenses with their use in her name also. (Leastways, on the cover of her CD: the liner lyric sheets see her bowing to convention.)

Now, at the outset, let me ask myself if I am as “mixed up” in my reaction to this CD as the artiste would seem to be, in the marketing of her “brand name”? The answer is no. After three plays, I am confident in the clarity of my reaction.

But that said, the truth is that this is a curate's egg of a CD. Some aspects of it are very good indeed: but, like a glorious edifice, it needs to be built on the soundest of foundations, and it is there that my doubts lie.

Okay, what do you want first? The “good”, or the “not-so-good”? Well, I will choose FOR you, as the former far exceeds the latter. So let's look at the bright aspects.

Pre-eminent in the “plus column” is Fil Campbell's voice. It is not the classic modern female “folk” voice: it is softer (less “hard-edged”) than average and oscillates a little. (Oscillates PLEASANTLY, that is.) I knew it was a voice that reminded me of someone from the past, but I could not think just who it was. And then it came to me: her fellow Irishwoman, Mary O'Hara. A woman who achieved considerable international fame.

And on the evidence of this album, there is no reason why Fil Campbell too, cannot really make her mark. Certainly, if she does, I would suggest she hang on to her backing musicians: they are a capable bunch. Too many to mention in depth, but suffice to say that the highlights were the cello of Anne Murnaghan, the backing vocals of Tom McFarland, and (best of all) the keyboards of Gavin Murphy. That organ sound was worthy of a place with Dylan's cohorts “The Band”, in their full pomp.

The songs are mainly self-penned: of the others the best is Mick Hanly's “Somebody Up There”, which she wisely chooses as an opener. Her songs are thoughtful, expressive of mood, and show a real sensitivity. But here we come to the “minus” column.

You see, the plain fact is that for all their apparent charm, none of her songs (or anyone else's come to that: INCLUDING Mick Hanly's) really grab you. Gosh this is a nice CD to listen to: one could imagine it would be a perfect accompaniment for all sorts of occasions. But in the end, it all comes down to the SONGS.

After I had already played the album once, I got an e-mail from her to tell me that “I Still Think of You” was written for her father, and “Lover's Eyes” was written as though it was her native Northern Ireland that was the authorial voice. I had guessed the former, but would never have guessed the latter; though when I had been given the information, the song did grow in stature.

(Which leads me to think that a singer with her excellent diction should have no need to provide lyric sheets: that space would MUCH better be taken up with her helping us get an entrée into every song, by some personal notes on the creative process.)

But as I was saying, it is not as though there is anything WRONG with these songs: it is just that they are not right ENOUGH.

I can remember the 60s. And I reckon the young Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell etc have a lot to answer for. And here is for why.

When you bought their early albums, songs would just JUMP OUT at you. You got the sensation that the songs had forced their way out of their GUTS, not their heads. The songs were so special and invariably had a particularly distinctive melody, often coupled with a strong narrative thread.

Suddenly every folkie felt they had to write their own songs. But they invariably were CEREBRAL efforts, and did not “write themselves”, as the best songs (in part) do.

Many folk CDs contain poorer songs than those on this album, but the songs here share that lack of the “really distinctive tune” and the “compelling story”. But all is not lost: were Fil Campbell to spread her net wider and produce an album of really fine songs from little-known songwriters (and not just songs of friends, as I suspect some of these are) then I feel sure she could make a big breakthrough.

Indeed, if she wants to ask me, I am prepared to help her out with some suggestions.

Oh, and one final thing: please Fil, include “track timings” on your next album. If you want radio plays, you will find that DJs regard this info as ESSENTIAL.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England.

Track List:

(All songs - unless stated – written by Fil Campbell.)

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