(4 / 5)
Introducing one of the UK’s best kept secrets, singer-songwriter Linda Campbell. This is her third album, but in her mind it is her debut proper. When you spot the famous names on guitar here times two, you may be forgiven for thinking this is gonna be a country album or a folk album. It’s both and more, in fact.
Oh, those guests: Albert Lee and Jerry Donahue. Legends indeed. The rest of the assembled cast are as equally as impressive, but without the star names and heady CV. A dozen songs, all penned by Linda. So, who is Ms C?
A mother of two teenage boys, a full time professional session singer and vocal coach/teacher with a three octave range who also has her own band and gigs regularly. Based in the Preston area, she started work as a vocalist at the age of 16, adding song writing, guitar playing and sound production by the time she reached eighteen. Linda has sung on stage and in the studio in the UK, Europe and the USA and her session work includes singing on Costa adverts, and as a backing vocalist for the house band at a top London venue, and support artist for soul legend Edwin Starr.
Recently Linda has supported Dan Reed, Francis Dunnery, played the last four years at the Mold Festival in Wales, and spent four years at the ‘Charter Theatre’ in Preston in behind the scenes roles, including sound technician.
The self-funded album was written over a four-year period and took circa three years to record, mix and master. A wee chunk of cash was raised by a mini crowd funding campaign, and even cash donations in lieu of birthday gifts. The quality of the production is to be commended with no major financial backing. But it all begins and ends with the strength of the songs in any project, for a major label or indie artist, and this is no exception.
Here we do have some strong material and a very fine singer, some great players and a brace of star name guests. The whole thing is well worthy of widespread attention. You’d never know this was done on a shoe string. Her previous two albums were nowhere near as serious an approach as this one; in Linda’s words both “demo quality”. This one would compare nicely in quality to most of what it would sit next to on the racks of any record store.
Linda clearly believes in a mindset I have adopted throughout my life and career, and that is; if you do not ask, you do not get. She got hold of Albert Lee’s email address from a contact and asked him if he would consider appearing on her album. He was up to his ears in his own work at the time, but being the lovely, kind and generous soul I know my mate Albert to be, he offered to listen to a demo of the song. Once he heard that demo, he agreed to lay down a guitar track on it, from a studio in LA where he lives. He sent back five different takes for Linda and her producer to choose from.
Jerry Donahue was a Facebook friend of Linda’s, and his reply was pretty much the same as Albert’s when she asked him to join in the fun. They spoke on the ‘phone a few times, leading up to him sending his guitar track through to Linda. Sadly, about three weeks after he recorded his part on this record, Jerry suffered a catastrophic, paralysing stroke, in July 2016. According to reports published several weeks later, doctors told his family that he would probably never play the guitar again. Part of the proceeds of this album will be donated to Jerry Donahue’s “Sweet Relief” fund, for his rehabilitation. The album is dedicated to Jerry.
Why the title “My Geography”? “These songs are life stories. Some about me, some about people I’ve met. Everything that happens to you in your life, forms your character, inside and out. Just like the glaciers formed the landscape we live in, our experiences form the person we become, hence ‘My Geography’. I am a product of the life I’ve lived”. Linda plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals and all lead vocals. Much praise for the string arrangements by Graham Haworth, and the skillful performances by Ann McEvitt on violin, Sarah Moult on violin and Stephen Willoughby on cello. Their contribution adds huge value to this album, in terms of quality.
The album opens in fine style, with the up-tempo “Peace, Love and Music”, which kicks off with Linda howling like a banshee – that’s not me being unkind about her voice, by the way! – and then a funk bass riff, before the unmistakable finger picking and twangy skills of guitar legend Mr Albert Lee. His sole appearance on the album, but he makes it pay for sure. There’s references to Nashville in the lyric, and some country gob iron (aka harmonica) blowin’ up a storm from Paul Routledge. A sassy vocal from Linda, whose timbre put me in mind of the late and great Kirsty MacColl a tad. It’s a radio-friendly, commercial offering. Very good start.
“The Devil Is A Woman’s Touch”, a mid-tempo pop tune with a nice hook, some tasty sax work from veteran Merseybeat musician Brian Saxophone Jones, channelling Boots Randolph. Just after the sax solo, they couldn’t get the right sound for the bass drum. So what we hear is actually Linda thumping seven bells out of the studio sofa! She had Sir Tom Jones in mind to cover the song when she wrote it, as the natural follow-up to “Delilah”. Can’t see it myself, but you never know……….
Acoustic guitar and mandolin sets the tone for a very decent song, “The Traveller’s Song”. Linda’s sweet vocal is a snug fit for this gentle, folk-tinged cut and shows off her control. She sings the backing vocals too, which add value. It has a Prog’ meets folk feel to it, and Celtic flavours too. The string arrangement seals the deal. Influenced by the ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ book by Audrey Neffenegger, which Linda was reading while on holiday in Lapland, where she asked the holiday rep’ what his “story” was, and then wrote this song on New Year’s Eve of 2010. The 16th century Cittern instrument gets an airing here, played by Davy Edge.
“Castaway” sees LP deliver the best vocal thus far; on a beautiful ballad. Emotion-soaked vocal, lush strings where their arrangement makes the track. A stripped back acoustic vibe, which gives welcome light and shade between the more ballsy material on this record. “Catching Raindrops”. Love this one. Big hook, again folk meets Prog’ in mood. With Linda’s (pure) vocal style, I was reminded of the superb Renaissance and the sublime Annie Haslam. This has a commercial, mainstream Radio 2 fit, to my ears. The spot-on drums and bass work from the two Phils; Escott and Wood, gives the track a concrete foundation for everything else to sit on.
Her youngest son, 13-year-old Heath Campbell appears on “Catching Raindrops”, playing Cajon. Also “keeping it in the family”, Kayci-Lee Thompson and Rosie Moult who supply backing vocals on two tracks, are both singing students of Linda’s. The classy front cover artwork, designed by Mike Barnes, features Linda’s young niece at Rivington Pike, part of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire.
As the CD proceeds, I detect the changes in Linda’s vocal – for the better – and is perhaps a marker of how this record was made over a sustained period and in several places. An example is this cool ballad: “The Girl Who Lost her Smile”. A relaxed, strong vocal. The melancholic vibe is provided by the cello and string parts.
The title cut, “My Geography” didn’t do it for me as much as the rest of the album. I feel the song structure needs a lift, and seems a bit flat in arrangement. The vocal seems in the wrong key for Linda and restricts her ability somewhat. Jerry Donahue’s fabulous guitar contribution is a huge bonus, but sadly he’s only on this one track. Nowhere to hide for Linda’ s vocal on the exposed “Nothing In The End”, with just a piano for company, where Brooke Lizotte delivers some fine gospel-infused touches. Nothing else needed. Carole King/Carly Simon moment. A lovely ballad where Linda squeezes every ounce of emotion out of her voice.
Some neat production values on “Shades Of You”, including ‘backwards’ guitar, on a dark and moody song. To sum up her feeling that fairy-tales are so misleading. “I’ve waited 40 years for my Prince to rescue me and take me to his Kingdom to live happily ever after! There’s too much focus on image. Girls should grow up with different heroes, not super-models and pop stars”, she says. The narrator here, Tim Quinn, is the former editor of Marvel magazine and The Beano.
Latin flavours seep into “Give To You My Best” where we are treated to some fine trumpet from Andrew Peers. The song moves on to a Santana Samba vibe with some really excellent guitar from Matt McGory, which adds nicely to the Latin vibe. Linda and Graham Haworth’s percussion helps to nail the groove later in the track, which would have worked better to have made the whole thing like that.
A crow, crowing it’s feathery head off at the start of “Mercury In My Veins” sets the tone for this one. That bird was recorded in the churchyard at Haworth, Yorkshire where the Bronte’s lived in the vicarage where their Dad was the vicar. A Celtic and folk mood, Baqir Abbas’ Bansuri flute a lovely touch (recorded in Lahore, and causing Linda and her co-producer a headache when the engineers in Lahore were so taken by his performance on the flute, they applauded loudly on the recording, which took some effort to remove!). Another folk meets Prog’ affair. Clannad sprang to mind. The only fictional song she has ever written.
The album closes with “Revival”, featuring ensemble vocals which took me back to the likes of “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band in 1976. This track is a pleasing way to cease proceedings here. The only co-written song on the album, penned with Linda’s former personal and professional partner John McFall, written 25 years ago and re-worked for this album.
Some of the song structures perhaps need a lift, and if she wrote with other more experienced and published writers, they could bring that asset to the table. In Nashville, they call it “writing up” and it is very rare, if not impossible, to find a song written in Music City by a lone writer in the charts or getting cut by a major artist. It is nearly always at least two writers getting together. Linda surely has the talent and the ability to attract decent co-writes with top end writers, based on this collection, to record herself and/or to place with publishers and bigger name artists to earn her some serious money and profile.
The album was produced by Linda and Allan Crookes. Recorded in an attic, a converted shed and sent across three continents to have world class musicians add their magic, before being mixed in Liverpool by Allan Crookes and Linda. It’s final journey was to Nashville to be mastered. This is very much a United Nations collaboration!
There is a tribute to Linda’s late friend Robert Batey (Dee) on the album cover, “In memory of Robert Batey (Dee) – “I met a man in Nashville, met a man in Tennessee”…the lyric from the first cut here, “Peace, Love and Music”. There’s a heartfelt story behind that reference. Here’s the background:
Linda was born in Iran. American soldiers rented the house next door. Robert (Bob) (Dee) Batey was one of them, and he used to make Linda “the most delicious cakes with American frosting”. She was five-years-old. The pair shared the same birthday on 14th July, and she loved him like a family member. When Linda and her family left Iran, they lost touch with Dee. Some 20 years later, Linda was preparing for a trip to the USA to promote her music. She decided to try to track him down. Linda contacted the US military and asked if they could find him, but didn’t hear back. She planned to go to New York and Nashville.
After arriving in NYC, her Mum called to say that she had received a letter from the US military. They said that Dee was still alive and living in Nolansville, but that was all they could reveal. Linda excitedly called the US telephone operator and found a number for him. When she called the number and a male voice answered, she asked if he’d bake her a cake, as a clue as to who was calling him! But her money ran out and they were cut off. When she called back a while later and told him who she was, Dee was lost for words, but thrilled to hear from her after all those years.
No idea where Nolansville was, Linda was delighted to be told it was just 25 miles from Nashville. They met up at long last in an emotional re-union, and she was invited to stay with him and his family. Linda has been back to visit on two other occasions. Sadly, Dee passed away suddenly a few years later. Linda says she feels “so blessed” that they got to spend time together again and “adored” him.
If Dee were still with us, maybe he’d be in the kitchen at his Tennesse home, with this album turned up loud, while baking a great big cake to celebrate Linda’s impressive achievements. As the Americans say: “Good job. Neat job”.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’