Mike Campbell
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Mike Campbell

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Sad Eyes
Mike Campbell
Independent
2000
14 tracks

It's a grey rainy day in my part of Canada and, immersed in the resonance of Mike Campbell's voice, I'm thinking how ideal this music is for rainy day listening. Campbell has a deep rich voice that brings me back to artists like Paul Robeson or Ivan Rebroff. The voice is full and bright and, even in the saddest of songs, reflects an inner joy. The songs are stories, not so much folk as the stuff of light opera or the music theatre. Like his singing, Campbell's writing is clear, interesting, and to the point.

Campbell's lyrics, on a variety of very human themes, are as interesting to read as they are to hear. The stories have the universal appeal of a good country song and humour that ranges from Robert W. Service to the sort of folksy American popular humour we've hardly heard since the Fifties. The musical presentation only serves to enhance the already well-written stories.

The song that is perhaps best, both in writing and performance, is not so funny. "William Wallace" is a slice of Scottish history retold by Campbell in a very authentic sounding folk style. Mournfully told, this is the life story of a man and a nation, and a moving tribute to both. This song is extremely well crafted and performed. It deserves to be more widely heard.

"Little Jim" is one of several songs on this release that bring to mind the writing and humour of Canadian folk icon Stan Rogers. A tall tale of a drunk caught in a hurricane, this song is a rollicking ride that can't help but brighten the listener's day at least a little bit. It's not hard to imagine it set to a Pecos Bill style music video.

"Feeling Like A Rock" especially evokes Rebroff. It's a richly metaphorical song with the sort of dark centre one might expect in a Russian song. Campbell's vocal is deep and heartfelt, a combination of emotion and sound that bring the song much more power than it might otherwise have. The effect is powerful.

"Traveling Marilyn" is a bittersweet love song about a woman whose adventures take her around the world and about the man who waits at home. Throughout there's a playful sense of fun. It has a bright almost Caribbean feeling. What a great song to begin the set.

Perhaps the funniest song on this release tells the story of a cowboy's luck in Arizona. This is what Service would have written if he'd been an American. The longish lyric is a hoot to read and Campbell's presentation, complete with some very bad accents, is hilarious. This is one of the songs that make Sad Eyes a definite must listen.

"Rainy Day Blues" brings empathy to my feelings on this grey and rainy day in Ontario. The story of a man working away from home in a cold and rainy climate and of his longing to be home, this song should resonate with many listeners. Counter to the perhaps dismal images of the lyric, the music has a bright Jimmy Buffett country sound.

Along the same lines, "Sailor's Lament" comes across as much more mournful. Moving at the slow march of an Irish dirge, this song of life "on the cold, cold sea" could as easily be a letter to a far away lover or a prayer to God. There's balance and structure here and a certain ambiguity, all of which stand the song in good stead.

With music ranging through folk, country, popular theatre and other styles, Sad Eyes is an interesting mix of well-written story songs performed with just the right level of drama by a man with a powerful voice. I recommend adding it to your collection to save for a rainy day.

Those interested in learning more about this Alaskan songwriter and singer can find it on the Mike Campbell website. - Bob McKenzie


Crooner Campbell strikes
a chord with audiences
by Deanna Thomas
Alaska Star Reporter

During his time off from being a weights and measures inspector for the State of Alaska, Mike Campbell sings about moose who eat junk food and his brother who died during his childhood.

Blessed with an amazing deep voice, Campbell can belt out any one of his original tunes with the best of them. In his newly released album "High Country," Campbell both establishes himself as an accomplished songwriter and cements himself a spot in the folk elite of Alaska.

His ability to perform in front of a crowd is just as impressive as his musical talent. Cracking jokes and talking to the audience throughout his performance at Jitters Saturday evening, Campbell builds a rapport with his followers. He makes it clear that he is having a good time and insists that the audience does the same.

Sitting in that crowd of people is his biggest fan - his wife Tawmmie, who sits beside Campbell during his performance selling his albums and lipsynching each song to herself. Tawmmie Campbell walks around the room as Campbell begins to sing, making sure that the speakers are giving out just enough sound.

Despite his success with local crowds, Campbell said he does not plan on quitting his day job any time soon. "Music doesn't pay real well up here in Alaska," he explained. If it became more profitable, he said he would consider taking up singing as his main profession. "I think I would like to be a full-time singer/songwriter."

Still, money isn't his main motivation for singing. "The reason I do it isn't for money, the reason I do it is for fun."

With a mother who was a member of the San Francisco Opera Company, Campbell was taught to enjoy music at an early age. His familiy, he said, always sang together during his childhood. "When we get together, we still sing," he said.

Now, as an adult, Campbell has continued to make music a family affair. On his first album, "The Sculptor," Campbell's two oldest children played background music.

Campbell has also written songs about his family members, the most touching of which is one about his older brother who died when he was 9, which he says is his favorite.

"The song has helped me get through the grief that I didn't even know I still had," he said of writing the song. "When I first wrote the song I couldn't sing in public---it was too emotional."

Another compelling family song is one Campbell wrote for his oldest daughter Tracy before she went off to college for the first time called "I Hate To See You Go."

Campbell weaves Alaskan landscape and emotions together with the ease of an accomplished songwriter. His message is clear and heartwarming when he sings "though I know it's time for you to get out on your own, Tracy I sure hate to see you go."

While these songs tug at people's heartstrings, most of Campbell's songs can be characterized as upbeat. Just as he had members teary when he sang about Tracy, he had people laughing when he sang his song "Free Walter," about a crab who goes to Hollywood and gets sued by a starlet.

Whether he is singing about Walter the crab or about living in a trailer park, Campbell is unique.

Those interested in seeing Campbell perform live, can attend Vagabond Blues in Palmer from 8-10 p.m. on Jan. 11 or Qupqugiaq Cafe on Jan. 18. People can pick up his album "High Country," at the following locations: Barnes and Noble, Jitters, Borders Books and Music and C and M Used Books and Music. - Alaska Star Newspaper


High Country
Mike Campbell
(MCD222HC)

Mike Campbell
P. O. Box 230873
Anchorage, AK 99523
mooseman@arctic.net

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Ed Kohn
(EdatFF@aol.com)

On first listening, High Country might feel like it's been recorded just for folks who live north of the Arctic Circle -- and you might be inclined to drag out a map to see exactly where Kodiak Island and Dutch Harbor lie relative to the rest of the known world. There's mention of heading south to the islands - Kodiak, Dutch, and others that are often covered with snow and ice -- as though they were tropical paradises complete with swaying palms and hula dancers. And there are jokes about the high cost of visiting Alaska, and of the ever-present danger of being mistaken for a moose. By the time the CD is loaded a second time, though, you will have shed your naivete and may even feel as though you've spent enough time steeped in the tough independence of Alaska to try out your new-found insights to others of the southern persuasion.

That's perhaps a slight exaggeration, but listening to Mike Campbell sing about the good and bad of our largest state in his rich resonant baritone (bass?) does convey the atmosphere of it in a way Frommer's guides never could.

The album opens with Campbell's strong voice -- clear, enticing, friendly -- singing about the Highway of Dreams that leads to his family's new home in the far north. Amidst the excitement and trepidation of such a journey lurks the reality of
This road to adventure ain't all that it seems
I'm glad we brought the credit card as part of our team
To survive this highway of dreams.

And then, when they're finally almost there:
There's a breeze in the window
Only bugs in my way
Gonna get to Alaska today.

Tired of These Rainy Day Blues is a beautiful little song about the steady rains of Kodiak Island. As many of Campbell's melodies, this one is lovely.

Carhartts, perhaps the most unusual of the bunch, tells of the time the narrator/hero was stuck in the wild when his car broke down. Like anyone who knows his way around sixteen words for snow, though, he was equipped with a warm Carhartt brand outfit to keep warm while he went for help. But this is Alaska, where every pickup truck houses a shotgun and anything that moves is potential protein for the family for the winter. And so the chase begins. Campbell is a wonderful storyteller. His pacing is excellent, the rhymes are unforced, and the story-song is thick with payoff lines.

By the time you get to Down To The Islands, a tropic-laced tune about the islands that lie farther north than any of the contiguous forty-eight, you'll stop being surprised at how deeply Campbells' tongue is imbedded in his cheek. In fact, it's a very melodic song, with background singers Penny Lee and Laura Hall doing a wonderful job keeping straight voices through such phrases as "belly ache ache ache ache ache" and "seagull do do do do do."

Other songs include Andersonville, a mournful song about the horrors of the Civil War prisoner-of-war camp (which seems a bit out of place in this mix of songs), Snowshoe Shuffle, with the best faux trombone accompaniment you're likely to hear this decade, and I'll Always Be In Love, a very sweet love song. Campbell apologizes for it in the liner notes, suggesting it's too schmaltzy, but no apology necessary -- it's lovely and sounds sincere. There's also When Your Ship Comes In, with a bit of advice about always being prepared, Trailer Park Song, some very clever lines surrounding a gentle slam on those who inhabit some trailer parks, I Hate to See You Go, a good-bye song to his daughter going off to college, and Free Walter, about a King Crab.

High Country is a wonderful introduction to life in the frozen north. It's sincere, down to earth, and uncomplicated. Campbell's voice and guitar are prominent and, even at their most complex, the arrangements are spare -- a violin here, a faux trombone there, a vocal accompaniment there. If you like the music of a storyteller, then this is a delightful album. Campbell's voice is solid, he enunciates clearly, the melodies are wonderful, and the quality of the recording is excellent. It's one of those albums for us southerners to listen to in front of the fireplace where, even in winter, we know the sun will rise the next morning. - Folk and Accoustic Music Exchange


VICTORY REVIEW
Acoustic Music Magazine
September 2005

Singer-Songwriter
Mike Campbell: Mars Outback
(Gold-N-Moose MDC444MO)



Meet the three Mike Campbells! Campbell number one: Lovin’ Mike! There, fresh back from the barber, in his favorite sweater, holding the 000-45 just the way the Mel-Bay shows it! Ready to turn your heart to taffy with ooey gooey odes to the love of his life. Why, just starting the record is “Falling In Love”! And being away from his native Alaska (and you sweetums) is like “Christmas Without Snow.” Lovin’ Mike has that deep, lush baritone that brings him to within some synth strings of being a Roger Whittaker sound alike.

But wait! He’s not! He’s . . . Stout Hearted Mike! All 250 burly pounds o’ him in ‘is kilt, ready ta slap yer back ‘n’ order up tha next pint o’ somethin’ ta put hair on yer chest! He tells the barmaid, in the best song about beer since “Non Barleycorn”, to put that Budweiser “Back In The Clydesdale” and bring ‘im a Guinness. Stout Hearted Mike sings about his buddy “Whiskey John”, too, takes a whirl on the “Turnagain Waltz”, and celebrates the hunting season with “First Kill.”

Now look outside! Kicking back in a lawn chair on the side of a glacier, its Campbell number three: Good Time Mike, the Bush Pirate, King of the Puffinheads! With his Aloha shirt and gotohell pants at 10 below, he’s here for the party up in Number 49, with a hilarious tale of the Iditarod gone crazy, and of a goofy gambler called the “Seventh Son.”

The three Campbells wrote all the songs on Mars Outback between them, and if you don’t like one of them, you’ve got the other two to adore, and that’s enough to put this CD in the collection.

Tom Peterson - Victory Magazine


Marketers and Slammers

Crystal Hutchens

Mike Campbell’s unmistakable baritone rang through the air as I foraged for food at last week’s Saturday market. I located some delicious spicy shrimp and perfectly ripened Rainier cherries and took a seat in the crowd. Campbell oozes Alaskana folk with stories of salmon love and Kodiak blues. His songs are sort of like tall tales about whales and fishermen and Alaska landscapes. He’s been a regular on the festival circuit for years. On Saturday, he broke character a bit when he told the crowd that although it might have been a hot day by Alaska standards, his Arizona blood saw things differently. Then he crooned a crazy tune about being a cowboy in southern Arizona and catching a criminal that garnered him a handsome reward. His gift for the tall tale sing-along seems never ending. He mentioned that he writes most of the music he performs and that CDs were available. "They make good coasters," he joked "and they’re good for target practice if you’re into shotguns." - Anchorage Press Newspaper


Discography

1994 "The Sculptor" - 10 original songs on CD
1996 "High Country" - 12 original songs on CD
2000 "Sad Eyes" - 14 original songs on CD
2005 "Mars Outback" - 13 original songs on CD

My songs are played regularly on public radio stations all across Alaska and the rest of the United States. Two of my songs have been recorded by other artists and many folks in England and the USA sing my songs in song circles and festivals.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Mike Campbell
Alaskan Folksinger/Story Teller

Singer/Songwriter Mike Campbell works as a Weights and Measures Inspector for the State of Alaska. His duties take him to many remote communities in the “Last Frontier” and this extensive travel gives him abundant material for his songs. Mike’s CD’s “The Sculptor” (1994), “High Country” (1996), “Sad Eyes” (2000) and “Mars Outback (2005) show his diversity of styles from ballads to sea songs to his unique brand of Alaskan humor.

Mike regularly performs at music festivals, concerts, trade shows and other folk venues all ever Alaska. On occasion, he has traveled outside Alaska and presented his songs in Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Arizona and at festivals and folk clubs in England. He is best known for his deep bass-baritone vocals as well as the high quality of his song writing. When you see this performer listed on the program, you can be assured of a great evening of music to come.

“If Roger Whittaker and Tennessee Ernie Ford could have a baby, it would sound just like Mike Campbell.” Matt Hammer, Great Alaskan Opry

“With music ranging through folk, country, popular theatre and other styles, (Campbell) has an interesting mix of well-written story songs performed with just the right level of drama by a man with a powerful voice.” Bob Mackenzie, Sound Bytes, Toronto, Ontario

“Campbell weaves Alaskan landscape and emotions together with the ease of an accomplished songwriter. His ability to perform in front of a crowd is just as impressive as his musical talent.” Deanna Thomas, Alaska Star Newspaper