Eddie C. Campbell, a respected fixture in Chicago clubs, has never quite made it into the upper echelon of blues artists. Judging by performances on Tear This World Up, his first release since 1997, it’s not for lack of talent. But he does have a very individual take on things, and his somewhat quirky songs, most featuring a wryly resigned look at life, probably wouldn’t sound as well in other hands.
Campbell wrote the bulk of the material on Tear This World Up, and most tunes are mildly qualified delights. There’s the leadoff track, “Makin’ Popcorn,” a slinky shuffle that, not surprisingly, has more on its mind than … well, let’s just say ‘popcorn’ isn’t really what’s cooking – certainly not when Eddie’s advice includes lines like “Wrap your toes around the bedpost / And get a good grip"! And “Big World,” another shuffle, takes a humorous look at the perils of age and its effect on one’s ability to ‘perform.’ (In this particular case sleep wins!). Both tracks feature Campbell’s subdued but stinging guitar and sly, good-natured lyrical approach, setting the tone for what’s to follow.
“Tie Your Time,” a wry look at life’s frustrations, makes good use of Campbell’s quavering falsetto, while “Voodoo” is a swampy, atmospheric step outside the shuffle structure. “Care” is a slightly out-of-place slice of pop-soul, and the disc’s closer “Bluesman,” is an acoustic accounting of the many people Campbell has played with throughout his career.
Campbell was a childhood friend of the late Magic Sam, and honors his departed friend with a pair of covers, a relaxed, slow-burning “Easy Baby” and a frenetic “Love Me With A feeling,” both featuring the slashing west-side guitar sound Mr. Maghett helped to define. Elsewhere there’s Howlin’ Wolf’s grinding “My Last Affair,” Buddy Johnson’s immortal “Just Your Fool,” and a truly unique take on “Summertime” that recasts the Gershwin classic as another shuffle with surprising success.
Dick Shurman’s production is as quirky as Campbell’s writing, with the latter’s reverb-drenched guitar cushioned by a band placed well back in the mix. Supporting players turn in fine performances, but everything’s low-key, with both horns and harmonica applied judiciously, all propped up by discreet organ and occasional piano; it’s Eddie’s show, and Shurman makes sure his piercing guitar (he tales the vast bulk of the solos) and relaxed vocals are never overshadowed.
A fine set by a superb guitarist who combines a traditional instrumental approach to songs brimming with personality, this is a welcome return by Mr. Campbell. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait quite so long for the next …!