Shawn Camp’s latest record features his songwriting skills presented in a live acoustic and bluegrass context, framed with electric honkytonk flare. Even though the milieu may be different, the overall impression remains the same – Camp is a masterful songwriter and powerful singer.
From its opening electric twang, Fireball burns with rockabilly passion. But along with it, Camp brings wit and intelligence that rivals first-tier modern country songwriters such as Radney Foster or John Jennings. Camp is so well-versed in country convention that he can use them without becoming ensnared. Take “Love Crazy,” where he creates a rip-roaring road song by combining the images of riding around in a truck with references to late night partying in San Antonio and New Orleans. His verses are interspersed with hot solos from Russ Pahl on lap steel and Bob Britt on electric guitar. Rather than telling stories, Camps’ songs paint a picture. His lyrics are deceptively simple, honed enough to define the scene. He lets the music do the rest.
Recorded at six studios, each with a different engineer and co-producer, Fireball still manages to have a cohesive overall sound. Camp’s rockabilly sensibility requires that guitars twang, but due to modern recording techniques, the rest of the audio palette has equal panache. On cuts like “Beagle Hound” (which begins with the sound of actual beagles) Camp uses a standup (rather than electric) bass, so the sound has a wonderful acoustic thump on the low-end. Due to clever mixing, even the acoustic instruments retain their individuality and timbre.
Most contemporary country is merely pop rock with fiddles and pedal steels. If more modern country albums were like Fireball the world would be a much more musically interesting place.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.