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Songs From the Levee/The Portable Kate Campbell
Artist: Kate Campbell
Label: Compadre Records
URLs: <>,
Times: Songs From the Levee: 15 tracks (original 10 plus five bonus); The Portable Kate Campbell: 17 tracks

Songs From the Levee is Kate Campbell's first album. Re-mastered ten years after its initial 1994 release, it contains five bonus tracks--one is an alternate take and four are acoustic mixes all of songs from the album proper. Before I heard this CD and The Portable Kate Campbell, I had never heard her music. Some close friends recommended this singer-songwriter a few weeks ago, so I was glad to snag copies of these albums. As noted in the liner notes, Campbell is originally from the region of the Mississippi Delta. The inherent imagery of this upbringing is quite apparent in her songs. She sings with more than a little hint of a Southern accent, and her voice reminds me, in small part, of Lucinda Williams and--in no small part--of Texas legend Nanci Griffith. Kate's writing style is specifically reminiscent of Griffith's material in incorporating into her music local and regional imagery. Those are no small comparisons, and by extension, are compliments. A talented writer who seems to effortlessly capture the sights and sounds in the stories she tells, it becomes clearly evident to the listener that Campbell describes what she observes in beautiful detail.

The Portable Kate Campbell is comprised of re-recorded versions of songs from her past albums, although none of these songs are from her first album. It's produced by the very talented Will Kimbrough, who also plays on the album, and boasts guest appearances by Nanci Griffith and Kim Richey. More songs of the South are depicted in themes about how time moves on and stands still at the same time ("Wrought Iron Fences") to exploring the civil rights movement--in "Crazy in Alabama" and "Bus 109." There are also many compositions that explore her personal angle on life such as "Visions of Plenty" and "Look Away." The updated sound on this album is superb, and I prefer it to that of _Songs From the Levee_, although both are steeped with acoustic guitar, dobro, piano, strings, bass and drums with occasional accordion. The Portable Kate Campbell has more electric guitar, and Kate's voice--it should be noted--is very appealing. It's a kind of instrument in itself. If you like artists such as the aforementioned Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent, etc., then by all means, you should really enjoy the work of Kate Campbell.

In summary, if you want to start at the beginning of Kate's work, I'd recommend this re-mastered version of her first album. If you want a good updated overview of all of her recent work, then I'd recommend The Portable Kate Campbell which is bursting with seventeen tracks. Either way, it's great stuff, and you can't go wrong when she rocks, too, like on the grooves of Rosaryville and See Rock City.

Sing Me Out, also reviewed at The Phantom Tollbooth (by Scott Hearne at, is a companion album to The Portable Kate Campbell, both consisting of new versions of old songs.

Songs From the Levee

The Portable Kate Campbell

Chris Barlow September 14, 2004


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