Don’t let Ted Russell Kamp’s Zappa-esque cookie duster fool you—he’s no avant-garde prankster. Rather, he’s an earnest country-rock/rockin’-country singer-songwriter who knows his way around a good time, as he proves time and again on his latest record, Get Back to the Land.
Best known for his day job as Shooter Jennings’ bassist in the 357s (Kamp penned the instant classic “Steady at the Wheel” on Jennings’ first album), Kamp is far more of a traditionalist than his mercurial boss—you won’t find any of the rage and paranoia that fueled/marred Jennings’ last album, Black Ribbons, on Get Back to the Land. Kamp’s world is full of women loved and lost, dingy barrooms and nights spent on the road—just the stuff his audience eats up. Kamp seems to prefer introspection, but to these ears, his strongest mode is when he’s friendly and upbeat-sounding, even when he’s really down in the gutter.
Among the rockin’ highlights here include “If I Had a Dollar”, which is textbook barroom—a little Bakersfield twang, a lotta long-gone woman still on his mind. “God’s Little Acre” and the bouncing title track will both invariably end up on a Jennings’ set list. And obvious highlight “Aces and Eights” sounds like a sideways rewrite of Kamp’s previous “Better Beofre You Were Bigtime” (off ‘07’s Divisadero), with its bright horn section and keys, as well as its triumphant attitude (“You gotta walk tall no matter how small the stakes”).
Meanwhile, a few smoldering bluesy numbers—the cynical “Time Is a Joker” (with some axe assistance from Tony Gilkyson) and “Don’t Look Down”—suggest a new sonic avenue of exploration for Kamp. Kamp, who co-wrote every song and plays a half-dozen instruments (including trombone!) on the album is obviously operating at the peak of his powers on these tunes.
It’s also no coincidence that this record is released by PoMo Records—Poetry of the Moment. Kamp has a knack for capturing small details and understanding larger truths without getting florid: “The bottles on the table are just more warning signs”, he sings on “Bottles on the Table”; and “Every city is Las Vegas, no matter what they say,” the singer croons on “Get Back to the Land”.
As mentioned above, though, Kamp seems to be feeling extra ballad-y on Get Back to the Land. He colors “(Down at the) 7th Heaven” with some mariachi horns, but stretches the tale of his road-wary narrator and a waitress over five minutes; and more girls leave on “Georgia Blue”, “Right As Rain” and “Half-Hearted”.
Poor ol’ Ted. The funny thing is that Kamp realizes he’s the one to blame for the dissolution of these relationships (“All I have left is the half that makes mistakes”, goes “Half-Hearted”) and he’s not afraid to say so. At least recognizing there’s a problem means that one is not too far gone. Even with the navel gazing that slows the momentum on Side B, Get Back to the Land is a true, honest, heartfelt, more-rollicking-than-not offering from a musician who doesn’t know any other way to be.