In these crazy times, we all need reasons to be cheerful – and here is one such reason. Neil Campbell, one of Liverpool’s finest guitarists is back with a new album, his 21st in various guises.
Album Review by Tommy Calderbank
The cover is a lovely sepia photograph of four old people, seen from behind while they watch a seaside fair in the middle distance. It’s mysterious and poignant. There’s a gap between the people and their desires. I ponder the title, ‘The Great Escape’, and its possible meanings: not only escaping from the day to day with our Great British holidays, but also escaping the subtle cages set for us by Brexit and the pandemic. Perhaps….
Across the period of the pandemic in 2020, Neil focused on recording his new album for Klee Music, ‘The Great Escape’. The album includes twelve original compositions exuding the atmosphere of a travelogue, with airy arrangements and jazzy chord progressions. A true collaboration with producer/engineer Jon Lawton of Liverpool’s Crosstown Studios, Neil performs nearly all of the significant instrumental parts himself, with Norwegian drummer Viktor Nordberg on percussive duties.
Symzonia kicks us off in light, melodic style. Neil’s delicate and simple playing often belies the complexity in his music. Symzonia is like a many-petaled flower opening…
Incident in Rio establishes a lovely Latin vibe with its skittering percussion and lush strings. Wherever we’re greatly escaping to, its lovely.
Solar Monarch is a gorgeous, laid-back tune with a big sloppy grin on its face. A lot of the time – to me, anyway – Neil’s work contains the very essence of Spring, never better shown than here.
Don And Walt’s Hawaiian Excursion has a proggy feel, with its unusual time signatures.
Land Locked is moving and dense with emotion, especially when the cello hits.
Passport To Magonia has an expansive quality, with its echoing notes and dramatic builds. It feels like a country/folk tune, in part, and if there were vocals on the track, I’d imagine some bluesy, soaring expression of transportation.
Another Estuary is one of those songs which shows off Neil’s virtuosic ability, sounding once again like he has 12 fingers. In the backwards loops, he invokes a little of the folktronica vibe of the likes of Tunng; the xylophone adding an element of melodic sadness.
September is very jazzy and bubbly and would be right at home played live at Ronnie Scott’s, with a diva scatting over the top.
Masquerade is a light and skitteringly percussive tune, the first single from the album. It drives forward beautifully and has a sophisticated, layered structure. The video’s really lovely, too.
Spanish Feat is a woozy, vaguely hallucinogenic track, with a fragile tension to it.
Jazz Hands has some brilliant drumming from Victor. It shares with its stablemates the same unusual chord progressions and time signatures – along with a melodic delicacy – that mark it out as quintessentially Campbell.
The Great Escape slows the vibe right down for the finale. The title track is considered and reflective. The percussion is gentle and the song has a real wistful, poignant quality. The album ends on a shimmering, echoing fade, leaving this listener – once again – filled with admiration for its creator.
‘The Great Escape’ could be a soundtrack to the film of our recent lives. In its beauty, scope and elevated perspective, this album is a revelation, and one possible cure for your Winter blues.
The Great Escape is out 17th December on Klee Music. Available to pre-order here: