All people are products of their times, said Kate Campbell, but maybe not everyone realizes that. It’s the job of artists to point that out. Campbell is among the best at this–a product of her own times who possesses a unique ability to comment through song.
Campbell, a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter from Mississippi, released her 12th album, Save the Day, on Oct. 14. Her first, Songs from the Levee, appeared in 1995.
“The very first record I did,” said Campbell, “we actually pressed cassettes.” That would be her only album released on a tape format; the rest have been on compact disc. With her second album, Moonpie Dreams in 1997, Campbell launched a Web site, which now offers digital downloads of albums as an alternative to the declining CD format.
“Everything is so different now because of the Internet,” Campbell told EthicsDaily.com over the phone while touring in Ohio. “It’s amazing.”
Campbell said changes in recording and distributing technology occurred faster than anyone was prepared for ”even those in the recording industry.
“With every CD, I’ve been surprised that we still have retail,” said Campbell, adding that stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble still stock the CD, but “they’re going away.”
Regardless of how people hear the new songs, it’s still a process of getting the material to people’s ears.
“Yes, there is such a thing as a CD release, but in the Americana and folk market, it’s still a six-month-to-year process of getting it out there,” she said. “For a good year, it’ll be like this is a new record.”
Campbell delivers 12 tracks on the new album, which was produced by longtime collaborator Walt Aldridge. Save the Day was inspired by a quote from Frederick Buechner: “It is no wonder that just the touch of another human being at a dark time can be enough to save the day.”
Campbell’s new offering includes songs about Henry Ford, Elvis, going back to the moon, and, of course, Jesus. Its final track, “Sorrowfree,” was inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird.
“It’s quintessential Kate,” she said. “It shows growth, but it’s all me.”
“Quintessential Kate” means several things: church music influence, Southern lyricism, civil rights hauntings and special attention to personalities that push cultural, technological and religious boundaries. Campbell’s fans know that she has sung about snake handlers and astronauts, Martin Luther King and Joseph Zoettl (who built Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Ala.).
“What compels some of us to get these notions and pursue them,” said Campbell, “no matter what, even if they kind of seem stupid?”
“In modern times,” she added, “I’m very fascinated by what compels people to do that.” Campbell holds a master’s degree in history from Auburn University, where she studied with Wayne Flynt, eminent historian of the South.
“What does that say about the individual,” she wondered, “and what does that say about our society?”
All people are products of their times, said Campbell, but maybe not everyone realizes that. It’s the job of artists to point that out. Campbell is among the best at this ”a product of her own times who possesses a unique ability to comment through song.
She grew up in the sixties, when civil rights and the race to the moon regularly made headlines.
“When I was a little girl in the sixties, that was it, that was the thing,” said Campbell, a Trekkie, of the moon race. She described the July 1969 moon landing as a “defining moment.” It bubbles up in her music: an album titled Moonpie Dreams, lyrics that openly reference the moon landing, and a new cut on the latest album called “Back to the Moon,” which brought the house down at a recent concert at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird CafÃ©.
As America was shooting for the moon, some of its citizens were marching for their rights. Forty years ago, voting rights were denied African-Americans; now the Oval Office awaits Barack Obama.
Campbell spoke of the “historic election,” but added, “I haven’t been very happy with the media coverage of this election.” The issues have been more complex than either Fox News or CNN has shown, she said.
“They don’t have any deep conversation,” Campbell lamented. “Yes, breaking news. Yes, instantaneous. But I don’t think our language has advanced the way it should.”
“As a people,” said Campbell, “we just need to keep working at this, our language, and how we talk about these issues, and not let big sound bytes carry the day.”
“Yes, we are moving forward, but you go, ‘Oh great, now we can stop.’ There’s no such thing as standing still. You’re either going to go forward or go backwards,” she said.
“This is still the greatest experiment in recorded history,” she said, referring to the United States of America and its constitution. “That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to get better.”
The times they are a-changin’, and for better or worse, Campbell, who cultivated the language many of us have lost, will capture them in song.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.