LARRY CAMPBELL - Rooftops
Before I start my review, I have to say thank you to Jerry at Treasure Records for keeping us updated about the signing, mailing etc of the records. I must say that I rarely had a new album in hand that soon upon release, not one that I ordered via the internet anyway, not even if it just had to be mailed inside Germany. That said, I must admit that in my review I will mostly have to use pictures and images rather than terms of musical technique and style for the simple reason that I don't know any better. I certainly hope I can still share some of my feelings and thoughts about the album that way. My overall impression is that the sound is as rich, full and complete as the album is variant in mood and style. There is nothing missing here. These tunes don't need vocals, or any other accompaniment, because the guitar takes care of it all. It is voice. It is rhythm. It is melody. It is heart and soul too. It is everything any of these tunes needs. Larry hasn't let me down in the concerts I saw with his playing once, it is always a pleasure to listen to and watch him play. Now that he is playing songs of his own choice and his own mind on his solo record, it is all the more joy to hear what he can do on his own.
But now one song at a time...
1. THE CAMP CHASE I must have listened to this dozens of times by now, but it stays fresh and new. Most of you will certainly have heard this uptempo tune already, the sound of Larry's fast fingers chasing each other across the strings. It is fun to listen to, and it sounds so easy! A great starter to the album.
2. BLACK & WHITE RAG As the title suggests, this is a song of opposites, and the contrast sets the mood here. Deep dark notes and bright high notes create a beautiful interplay, and Larry succeeds in getting the piano sound he is aiming for according to the liner notes. In fact this tune could be straight out of an old time movie, with the melody substituting for dialogue.
3. MARGARET'S WALTZ A slow and thoughtful tune that seems to be as wide as the empty fields yet as close as the cloudy sky in the album's cover painting. Prove me wrong, but to my ears part of the song sounds slightly reminiscent of "Mull of Kintyre", only that "Margaret's Waltz" was around earlier than that.
4. ROOFTOPS The first of two Campbell originals on the album, this is another downtempo song, but one seeming to move constantly upward. On first listening I called this a "ladder climbing sound", and listening to tune one can just see the original rooftop pictured on the album cover. The song as well as the album as a whole, "Rooftops" takes you to places you've probably never been before.
5. THE HOUSE CARPENTER A musical tour de force, clocking in at 7:32 minutes and a true showcase for Larry's virtuoisty on the guitar. The story is outlined in the CD booklet, but only fully colored and brought to life by Larry's guitar playing skills. Just as the story itself that tells us of a woman that is wooed away from her husband and baby by another man, a small portion of the melody is reminiscent of that of "The Gypsy Davy". As the tune constantly changes in tempo and mood, the story unfolds in front of our ears. Among other themes it includes the sound of fast hoofbeats as the former lover hurries back to his beloved woman, the other man's lament over losing her, then the mother's lament over abandoning her own child, and eventually the raging storm and the desperation as the ship that carries her and her lover away starts to sink. Finally, as if the storm calms down, the song comes full circle with a reprise of its beginning. As many of you will realize, Bob Dylan recorded a song by the same title for the "Freewheelin'" album. The track was released by Columbia Records as part of "The Bootleg Series 1-3".
6. BLIND MARY Hard as it is to pick any favourites from this bunch of songs, this one is definitely a candidate. It is a slow and very tender dance tune, one that had me picture a couple quietly dancing in a large but empty room. Also, strangely as I didn't know the song before today, it gave me one line of lyric right away that fitted the tune. A lovely, dreamy song.
7. THE MARKET TOWN/SCATTER THE MUD This uptempo tune is more in the vein of The Camp Chase, and very lively. It incorporates the very nice effect of the higher melody line being echoed in the deeper register, resulting in a call-and- response-like sound. The second tune is more one that reminds of pounding hoofbeats.
8. RAGTIME ANNIE The brightest tune on the album, "Ragtime Annie" is a song that keeps you in high spirits throughout. Any child would certainly enjoy dancing to this summer day's tune, listening to it just makes you smile.
9. DEATH AND THE SINNER Played in the lower register, this is the slowest and darkest song on the album, a complete counterpart to the brightness of "Ragtime Annie". It evokes the depression of walking with a heavy load, a darkness surrounding everything, and it has a sound like teardrops. You'd think it gets just a wee bit more hopeful in the end, as the melody rises for a moment, but then it fades back into bleakness. Heavy stuff.
10.THE SCHOLAR/THE BANK OF IRELAND Another bright and truly tickling uptempo song. It is so rich in nuance and texture that it makes you wonder just how he can make all this come from just one guitar when it sounds like several different instruments played at once.
11.HENDERSON COUNTY The album closes with another Campbell original, which has you (day-) dream away to better places indeed. As I said before, the album and especially this song can take you to places known and unknown. This one is calmly and quietly played, creating a place that beyond anything else offers just relief. It's a place that doesn't need sunshine to make you feel comfortable, for it is inside, and it seems to know no boundaries.
The Package: The cover painting was done by Larry's father and shows the rooftop of Larry's childhood home, and some of the surrounding buildings, under a cloudy sky. Larry and his acoustic guitar were painted into the picture from a photograph that is featured on the back cover of the album. The back cover also shows a photo of Larry's guitar lying on a chess board patterned floor. The front cover, which fits the album nicely as both capture a whole range of different moods, is signed by Larry. His liner notes include background information on a song-by-song basis.
Finally I can say that I haven't been this excited about a new album release in a long time. You can listen to it all the way through and not be distracted for a minute, it just takes you away. It's simply amazing. I strongly recommend for everyone with a taste for truly handmade and heartfelt music to get this. It is a true treasure.
Thank you Larry!
Camp Chase - everybody's heard already, it's on the Treasure Records website
Black & White Rag - nice ragtime guitar playing - like Rev. Gary Davis.
Margaret's Waltz - lovely fiddle-esque waltz
Rooftops - very laidback, almost tropical sounding
Houscarpenter - Incredible. 7 and a half minutes long! He tells the whole story of the song with the guitar! The middle part is especially haunting.
Blind Mary - Pretty, sounds like Civil War music, reminds me of Stephen Foster for some reason. Cooling down song after Housecarpenter.
The Market Town/Scatter The Mud - Irish jig, foot-tapping type music.
Ragtime Annie - More ragtime
Death and the Sinner - Kinda sounds like The First Noel, otherwise similar to Blind Mary. Gorgeous.
The Scholar/The Bank of Ireland - more Irish stuff. Harder to tap your foot to though.
Henderson County - my favorite track, almost made me cry the first time I heard it, it's so beautiful. In the liner notes it says: "this song was written in homage to the places we go either physically or in our mind that provide refuge from our daily burdens." That is it. That is EXACTLY it.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Larry is one hell of a player!
The way he plays that guitar makes good down home folk
music sound classical! It's amazing what he does especially
on the haunting House Carpenter. He really does have the ability
to reduce you to tears simply by picking an acoustic guitar.
Hypnotic and wonderful. Thanks Larry!!! And thanks for the signature!
This album is a beautiful journey.
Give it a chance if you can, even if you don't
like instrumental albums. This one's great.
|Larry Campbell’s virtuoso prowess on various stringed instruments is similar to the wide musical landscape covered on Rooftops. Yes, it’s all instrumental, solo acoustic guitar, no vocals. Even though many of us Dylan fans would love to hear that voice that accompanied Bob through many harmonies in the earlier part of this decade, Rooftops sans vocals is not a flaw with this disc. In fact, you focus on the different reflections each piece of music stirs up as Larry nimbly picks and strums his way through it. There’s some Irish jig to melancholy Americana settler music that reminds me of the soundtrack to Robert Altman’s film “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”.|
easily add so much texture to a film by scoring it.
Both Larry’s original compositions and those
he pooled from traditional eras evoke that true
authenticity that I find similar to Jorma Kaukonen’s
solo material that I know of from the 1980s.
Very heartfelt. This album is filled with lush,
warm, strings. So, I truly enjoy this musical
journey through various timepieces that Larry
has put together. Also, as a side note, the silly
Dylan fan in me wonders if the CD’s jewel case
back cover check board pattern under Larry’s
guitar is the same check pattern from the stage
floor he played on with Dylan oh so many nights.
Woohoooh! I got Larryīs CD yesterday! What a joy! I listened to it several times with my whole family. We are all enthusiastic!
I expected (Irish based) folk tunes (which are favorites of mine),and I wasnīt disappointed. There are three wonderful sentimental tunes (Margaretīs Waltz, Blind Mary, Death and the Sinner) and fast jigs and reels (The Market Town, The Scholar). He plays so fast and easy going, as if itīs simplest stuff. Though Iīm otherwise used to Irish bands with fiddles, tin whistles, guitars etc., I don't miss an instrument when listening to these tunes. Larry can combine it somehow all with a single guitar, absolutely marvelous!
The House Carpenter is something very, very special. Here he tells a story (an old English ballad) with his guitar, varying often in tempo and style. After reading the summary in the booklet, I can almost “see” some scenes which are mentioned.
The two Ragtime-tunes are groovy and let you be in high spirits. Again they are performed with virtuosity.
“Rooftops” is different from all others tunes in my eyes, relaxed and calm and has no folk tune character like all the other songs. Maybe specialists can explain it much better. I love the sound of the baritone guitar, which I have never heard as a solo instrument before.
“Henderson County” is my favorite. So sentimentally and sad, that I feel a longing for places “... that provide refuge from our daily burdens...” too, while Iīm listening to it.
Oh, and donīt forget “The Camp Chase”, which has such a nice melody. One of those songs I can hardly believe, that there is only one guitar playing and that Larry has really only 5 fingers at each hand!
For me this CD must get *****!
Thank you Larry!