I am not a genre purist when it comes to music for the most part. Mostly, I am all for people combining genres together and evolving the sound of genres. Where I get lost in purity arguments is (sometimes) when genres are combined with slick pop music and this is seen as “evolution”. (It’s really devolution, am I right? In all seriousness, I’ve gotten a lot less bad about this than when I was a far snobbier music fan when I was younger.) And two of the genres where the incorporation of mainstream pop music most bothers me are soul and country. Though I try not to be a purist, the essences of soul and country strike me as anathema to the essence of pop and mainstream rock.
So I have a really hard time with commercialized country music whether its the arena country of Garth Brooks, the country pop of Shania or whatever the hell this is. (To me, it feels like the terrible ancestor of ’90s country pop and arena country.)
This is some slick country music that feels like the country equivalent of the Mellow Mafia AM radio thing dominating pop rock radio at the same time. (You’ll be shocked to learn that people associated with the sound of the Mellow Mafia appear on this record.) I’ve had little exposure to mid to late ’70s mainstream country music so I guess I was just unaware as to how slick it had gotten.
Campbell’s choice of songs is mostly good. (And occasionally excellent, as with the case of covering one of Randy Newman’s very best.) The melodies of the songs written for him are pretty strong and the lyrics, like many country lyrics, often feel above average. And the cover selection is diverse. I don’t think we need his version of “My Girl” but at least he’s trying to do something different.
But, for me, the songs don’t matter. Everything about this record is so damn sterile and safe and detached from what I think of as the sound of country. I get that there might be method to this madness – the glossy veneer of LA on country songs is some kind of comment about what Campbell has been doing with his life since he moved to California. But I really don’t care about that. This is not a good country album to me, it’s something bastardized and false and so very, very ’70s.