To say Jim Campilongo is a unique guitar player is like saying James Brown is funky. His playing is totally original and keeps growing. And the beautiful part is that he just seems to be getting more and more unique.
The title/opening cut is a perfect example. It’s funky, but not J.B. funky. The feel is unique. There are bends Jim pulls in, kicking and screaming. Then there’s chunky chickin’ pickin’ – but not your common, everyday country-style chirping, but a really one-of-a-kind sound. You can hear more of that on “Cat Under a Car.” The mix of harmonic squeals, bends, and distorted chords would make up the best horror show theme you’ve ever heard.
Even when things appear to be getting off to a normal start, they take a left turn. “Like, Hello?” kicks off like a hoedown stomp. But you can tell things aren’t going to be normal when Jim comes in de-tuning while playing. Of course, he then plays killer pentatonic licks that would make any country player proud. But it’s soon back into no-man’s land with some funny and original bass-note licks that are completely off the wall.
All the originals here bear Jim’s mark. The ballads have beautiful chordal work you won’t hear anyone else play. Loud Tele squeals, honks, and harmonic rings are everywhere.
As for covers, there are a couple, and as you’d expect they’re total overhauls. His take on Lennon and McCartney’s “Michelle” is irresistibly gorgeous, and a little odd. The familiar melody up front is stated with some chordal work that will have you scurrying to your guitar to try and figure it out.
From there, Jim and the boys go on excursions that often showcase the melody, but also let you in on their unique vision of the song. Same for the old warhorse, “Ain’t She Sweet.”
After one listen, you’ll have no doubt Jim is a great player. But he likes to mess with expectations. There are also two cuts featuring vocals, both supplied by Grammy-winner Norah Jones; “Sweet Dreams” and “Stella” are dreamy tunes that let Jim show off his harmonic talents.
I love this record, and Campilongo’s playing. He’s sort of the Tom Waits of guitar players. That may be a little unfair, but his methods and sounds definitely bring Waits to mind. His chops are incredible, and the trio setting gives him plenty of room to explore.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.