Artist: Owen Campbell
Album: Breathing Bullets
Label: ROC Records
Release Date: 08/19/2016
The title got my attention, and the next thing I noticed was that Devon Allman produced the Memphis-recorded album. And, then that Grammy winner Tom Hambridge mixed and mastered it. Whoa! – We should see what’s going on here.
Owen Campbell hails from Australia, and although he is new to me and probably you too, this is his sixth album, but the first intended for U.S. consumption and airplay. From the sidewalks of busking to international stages, Campbell is a rising star, propelled in part by Australia’s Got Talent TV show (yes they have those kinds of shows too). His 2014 album, Pilgrim, gave him blues and iTunes chart success in Australia and New Zealand and set the stage for this one.
The first thing you might notice is his smoky voice. I can’t quite pin down who he reminds me of, maybe Paul Reddick with a bit of James Maddock. Despite the presence of Allman and Hambridge, it’s not really a straight ahead blues album, although it has those elements. Campbell talks about the origins of his sound this way, “My father was a big influence… but so were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Band, and the Rolling Stones. I always liked the way the Band brought variety and diversity to their sound. So my sound has bits of country, soul, Celtic and rock. I love the variations.” Campbell’s songwriting and guitar chops impressed Allman, who, in turn recruited a bevy of Memphis session players including renowned keyboardist Rick Steff to support Campbell’s ten originals.
Campbell has a way of slowly building several of these tunes to wild climaxes, especially the first two, the title track and “On My Knees.” On others, he reverts to more of a folk vibe, complete with cello and acoustic guitars. Of the title track, he says, “I’ve had a rough couple of years, I guess it’s about that, coming back to busking on the streets after touring overseas, feeling a little entombed by it. So this is the Phoenix rising, a recreation of oneself… Something along these lines?” The titles “Howlin’,” “Rattlin’ Round,” “Eagle Man” and “Rise,” among others, speak to his restless soul. Along the way, he talks about nine lives, asking a medicine man to help guide his journey, and begging for love as he ages. He is a story teller, explaining this about “Eagle Man:” “This was a crazy experience I had leaving the Grand Canyon. In the tour van I was in this delirious dog-tired state and it came to me in a dream, a Gnarly old Indian man related the story of Eagle Man. He has this to say about “Rise:” “This was written as the stark realization one has sometimes when you sit back and realize YOU have been the problem, not all the people you blame, circumstances, situations, etc.”
Campbell will be on tour with Allman and Andy McKee beginning this month. Check out this refreshing new voice.