[16 April 2013]
With countless years of touring under his belt, both as a sideman to everyone from Wilson Phillips (!) to Shooter Jennings, and as an acclaimed, if below-the-radar, Americana singer/songwriter in his own right with a half-dozen albums to his name, Ted Russell Kamp has probably logged more road miles than anyone this side of John Madden. Kamp’s a busy guy, playing in smoky bars across the US and Europe, yet still found time to record Night Owl—Kamp proudly notes the album was recorded at home and in various hotel rooms across America—an honest, soulful rumination on life on the road and how to grow old with the person you wave goodbye to when the tour van pulls away from your house, signaling the start of another tour.
Kamp’s “night owl” isn’t some sozzled Bukowskian/Waitsian vampire, whiling away the hours between dusk and dawn; rather, he’s working, penning tunes for a woman, as on the stripped down “My Songs for You”, or conversely, not penning tunes for a woman, as on “Another Love Song” (“I don’t need another love song, I just need you right now”). Lest the notion of a life-on-the-road album full of meta-songs sound a little too insular, rest assured that Kamp falls more in the Springsteen-as-blue-collar-chronicler crossed with ‘70s AM radio category: unselfconscious, honest, proud, and sonically, a little twangy and dusty. Over the warm keyboards of “Smile Alone”, Kamp’s narrator realizes he’d rather cry together with the love of his life than perform the titular action; elsewhere, he promises to a woman that all he needs in life is “A Whole Lotta You and Me”, and on “At the End of the Day” that “you’re the one that I need”.df Dude’s got a one-track mind, and while that sensibility does sneak into the album’s sound—mid-tempo and heavy on Wurlitzer and pedal steel—Kamp does mix things up: a jazzy clarinet backs him up as he celebrates carpeing the diem on “The Last Drop”; trumpets add a dreamy gauze to album centerpiece “Santa Ana Winds” and a drone-y guitar adds genuine menace to the noirish “I Been Watching You”.
So yes, Kamp’s resume, discography and lyrical pursuits will tag him as workmanlike in the eyes of some, but over the course of his six solo albums, culminating in Night Owl—easily his most mature and nuanced release to date—Kamps has established himself as one of the finest, most honest, soulful and direct singer/songwriters working today.