Jimmy Campbell – Son of Anastasia CD; Half Baked CD; Jimmy Campbells Album CD (Esoteric)

It was in some Midwestern record store many moons ago that I came across a copy of Jimmy Campbell’s second record, ‘Half Baked’. It was an intriguing specimen to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it was on Vertigo, the label responsible for releasing everything from Sabbath to Patto to Cressida to that old splooge guzzler, Rod Stewart. The label rarely steered me wrong in my dork ball collector days of wanting every slice of vinyl made by any British dude who wore a pair of overalls. Also, the proprietor of the dump slapped a sticker on it comparing it to Roy Harper, which gave it some potential, but I think the thing that really made me walk out with the thing under my arm that day was the cover; a twisted full color photo of a forest setting with two clowns of the opposite sex in the center. The male stared at the female despondently while she looked off blankly towards the camera. She is clearly pregnant and has very dirty stockings on. I twisted the scenario plastered on the cover over and over in my head on the ride back to New Jersey. When I got home and put the thing on the turntable, I was even more confused. Did this guy want to be John Lennon? Dylan? Bolan? Nick Drake? The tracks seemed to jump from style to style seamlessly. Who the hell was this Jimmy Campbell? I needed to find out.

The needling of a few older collector types pointed me in the direction of The 23rd Turnoff and Rockin’ Horse, two spin-off bands Campbell was involved in, but finding those records was impossible. Even trying to find the other two records Campbell released before and after ‘Half Baked’ was proving to be a task. Since I had better things to do with my life (drink, stare at radiators, drink, etc.) I left the effort dormant and that was that. And it looks like once again my laziness has worked in my favor, as all three Campbell discs have been done up on tinfoil with bonus tracks, liner notes, etc.  Nice!

Campbell’s first solo effort Son of Anastasia from 1969 is a hard record to sit down and take in as a whole. The sequencing and pacing of the tracks seems jumbled and rushed. Goony acoustic tracks with kazoo accompaniment mingle with the string laden melancholy of ‘Lyanna’ and ‘Lovely Elisa Cope is Dead’ very disjointedly. Perhaps if this was trimmed down a little more sparingly in its time, we could have had an excellent introduction into the man’s songwriting. Instead, we’re bombarded with nasty sounding kazoos. Bummer.

I suppose Campbells’ second record, 1970s’ Half Baked can be taken as the complete opposite of his debut, in that it is a cohesive listen despite being so eclectic in sound. Excised of its’ jammers – such as the country funked ‘Green Eyed American Actress’ or the heavy title track – I suppose you’d have a record so morose it would make many a Bill Fay fan weep a years worth of tears. But you don’t. What you get is an album that’s almost a literal grab bag of emotions that anyone with half a heart and/or sex organ can latch on to; one of the most underappreciated singer/songwriter records of the seventies. Throw on ‘That’s Right That’s Me’ the next time you have the boys over for canasta and I’m sure you’ll get an ocean of arched brows and smiles. If you’re down on your luck and can’t afford the trio of Campbell discs, get this one and you’ll get the gist.

Jimmys’ third and final album, the oh-so-cleverly titled Jimmy Campbells Album was the one that would finally severe his contract with the Phillips label. Campbell was not a schmoozer on the music scene and would rather be at his house in Liverpool with his wife than be stuck in some studio or hanging around London with abuncha industry types. When called upon to record this one, Jimmy simply showed up at the studio with his acoustic, laid down twelve tracks and headed back home on the first train back to Liverpool. Instead of releasing the thing as is, the label brought in a guy named Mike Snow to come in and arrange some instruments around Jimmy’s playing. The results are wonderfully laid-back and subtle and do not get in the way of Campbell’s original vision of a direct sounding release. In some ways, it’s almost his Pink Moon; a fragile, sparse set of tunes that bear everything. That said, the track ‘Baby, Walk Out with Your Darling Man’, sounds like something that could have been crobarred into Brinsley Schwarzs Silver Pistol LP and no one would have noticed, so it’s not all gloom on this disc.

After sitting down and taking all three discs in, the question is still not really answered as to why Campbell has been skipped over in the mining of early seventies British singer/songwriters that’s been happening for the past ten years or so. The tunes are there. The eccentricity’s there. The even keel of neurosis and calm is there. So what gives?


by TONY RETTMAN on 10/15/2009 in Reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,