Since her potent 1995 debut, Songs from the Levee, singer-songwriter Kate Campbell has transcended -- or at least lived up to -- any and all critical praise heaped upon her. Campbell has embraced the folk ethic while utilizing only the parts of it that she truly needed to cobble together her incredibly literary story-songs. Using elements of Southern rock, R&B, soul, pop, and folk, Campbell has crafted songs of amazing depth and purity, attracting comparisons to Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, and Lucinda Williams.
For her fifth album, Wandering Strange, Campbell has cooked up something that might have been considered risky had it been presented by any other artist at this stage of his or her career: a gospel album. In keeping with her track record, Campbell doesn't hesitate to hammer on the seemingly unmalleable trad-gospel format until it conforms to her own standards. By blending traditional hymns with similarly themed contemporary compositions, then weaving the songs into the intricately patterned sound she perfected on her preceding albums, Campbell turns a potentially stodgy gospel album into a vibrant and wonderful musical experience.
From the electric version of Gordon Lightfoot's "The House You Live In," to Campbell's own "10,000 Lures" (on which she likens the devil to a fisherman), to the stunning hymn "Jordan's Stormy Banks" (long a staple of her live shows), Campbell applies the same hypnotic formula to every song regardless of its origin or age. Although Wandering Strange doesn't have the same sonic humidity as Harris' Red Dirt Girl, spiritual and emotional similarities between the two records abound. Come the close of 2001, Campbell's appearance on year-end Top 10 lists will be one more thing that she and Harris can share.
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