Album Review: Craig Campbell, Craig Campbell

Craig Campbell
Craig Campbell

The slightly perceptible shift to more traditional-sounding music on mainstream country radio carries on with Craig Campbell’s debut self-titled album, which was produced by the venerable Keith Stegall. Campbell may not be a household name just yet, but his album’s lead single is being warmly received so far and will likely continue to be at least for the near future.

The promising debut album from which the domestic “Family Man” comes is rife with very strong elements, but still suffers from some weaker moments that keep it from being a full on success.

With fiddle and steel guitar aplenty, Craig Campbell embraces a crisp neo-traditional sound that is refreshing to hear on an album marketed as country. Moreover, Campbell’s voice is strong and nicely melds with Stegall’s pleasant productions.

The combination of Stegall’s spot-on arrangements, Campbell’s commanding baritone, and the songs’ sing-able melodies provides a very fulfilling sonic experience for the listener who longs to hear unapologetic country music in the mainstream again. In fact, the brightest spot on the album is a severe, though sincere, indictment on the current state of country music that simply concludes, “If you gotta tell me how country you are, you prob’ly ain’t.”

Fortunately, while Campbell sings songs that celebrate innate country-ness (“Makes Me Wanna Sang”, “That’s Music to Me”), he largely avoids hypocrisy by using more subtle imagery instead of pulling out the stops with empty in-your-face proclamations. Furthermore, he does some name-dropping in “That’s Music to Me” as well, but does it respectfully with appropriate instrumentation to support it.

As to be expected from a country record, Campbell ably covers the common themes of love, lost love, family, and rural living. Among the most interesting of the themes, however, is when he touches on barely getting by. In “When I Get It”, Campbell matter-of-factly tells his bill collectors (including ex-wife), “When I Get it, you’ll get it / Times are tough / Get in line and wait / When I get it, you’ll get it / That’s all you’re getting’ today.” Similarly “Family Man” begins with “I’ve been working as a temp at the local factory / I hope they hire me on full time / I’ve got shoes to buy and mouths to feed.”

Despite all of its notable strengths, however, the album as a whole is weighed down by lyrical and content deficiencies that cannot fairly be overlooked. In many places, the lyrics are simple and often border on rudimentary, including “na na nas” (“When I Get It”) and humming (“Makes You Want to Sang”). The biggest pitfall, however, is the album’s tendency to attempt cleverness, which wouldn’t even be worth mentioning if it happened only once or twice. Unfortunately, cutesy wordplay is employed enough times on an 11-track album that it becomes a glaring distraction, which might too easily result in an album that is too gimmicky to enjoy longevity.

For instance, “I Bought It” runs through the times that he bought his woman things she wanted just because she showed interest in them, to buying her line about needing space to figure things out, to finally revealing that the tables were turned when she bought that he was excited that she’d decided to come home. Additionally, The more obvious attempts at clever wordplay can be found in “Fish” and (groan!) “Chillaxin.” “Chillaxin” needs no explanation, but the word “Fish,” let’s just say, shouldn’t rhyme with words like “truck,” “up,” “enough,” “love” and “luck,” which all precede it with added dramatic pauses for good measure.

In spite of this criticism, Craig Campbell is an album that shows tremendous potential for an artist who will hopefully mature with time and experience. It would be a shame to see such a talented artist either fall off our radar or ride on such mediocre lyrics for an entire career, because he’s clearly better than either scenario.


  1. I haven’t heard this album yet, but now I’m thinking I might have to pick it up. I agree with your assessment of “Family Man” – not totally airtight, but a cut above many other “sippy-cup country” songs about family life.

  2. You didn’t like Fish!?!

    I was going to another concert last year and Craig Campbell (way before Family Man) was the opening act. Of course, I’d never heard of him, went to his Myspace page, listened to Fish (or as it was called at the time, Hooked) and thought it was hilarious and clever. Granted, I’m a college kid, and know the song will never be appropo for country radio, but I still think it’s funny. More importantly though, I was impressed by the Craig at the concert, and especially at his willingness and insistance that everyone come talk to him and see him after the show, and I’ve been looking forward to picking up this album ever since. Glad to hear the review is a positive one!

  3. I agree with Leeann’s comment that “the album as a whole is weighed down by lyrical and content deficiencies that cannot fairly be overlooked.” I may buy some of the songs after a few more listens but definitely not the album. Good review on an artist with potential as you suggest but he’s not there yet.

  4. I’m reading between the lines here, but it seems like Craig Campbell may be 2011’s Easton Corbin. A new artist with traditional leaning arraignments to their music. I haven’t heard the album, so this conclusion is only on conjucture.

    I’ve never been a been fan of “Family Man” although it has been growing on me over the recent months. I don’t find the song to be anything special, but it is much better than most of the songs currently going for ads at radio.

    Leeann – this is an outstanding review. The level of detail blows most music critics out of the water.

  5. I agree, terrific review. Still haven’t listened to this one yet, but feel like I already have a thorough impression of it.

  6. I previewed this whole album on a site before deciding if I was going to buy or not…”Family Man” is probably the strongest song on the record IMO…at least as far as being able to connect with an audience. LeAnn…You definately hit it on the head about the “lyrical and content deficiencies” here. This album also seems as if it is living in a musical time that has already passed in country music…you can hear the major 90’s influences which just don’t seem to go a long way in today’s market. A shame too, because Campbell seems to be a fine singer which is more rare with each single released in country.
    After figuring it wouldn’t get many spins in my player, I passed on purchasing.

  7. I am a bit dissappointed in your assessment actually. If you look around there is a lot of “cutesy” wordplay in all music as well as what you would consider rudimentary lyrics. Listen to any station for a bit and you will find the same tricks. Have you listened to Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney? Not just country either, take a look at all music, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles, even Elvis. Practically everyone has done a song or songs that you would classify as rudimentary or gimmicky. It does not mean the songs are any less valuable, it does make them catchy and easier to sing along with. It is a very solid first album from an excellent singer who hopefully will have a very long and distinguished career.

  8. Tim,
    I don’t mind wordplay or cutesy here and there, but it seems to pervade the album, which is more distracting than clever or catchy. It’s a decent debut album, but I think it could have been much stronger with tighter lyrics. I also have to say that one person’s low standard doesn’t excuse another’s. Some bad songs on the radio shouldn’t give everyone the license to follow suit.

  9. I’m sorry, I thought it was about entertainment. To me if a song is catchy and fun to sing, that’s entertaining. I was not aware that we were trying to better the world by having lyrics that are always deep and meaningful. Your classification of all these other artists as having low standards seems a bit self important. How many albums have you got on the charts?

  10. I have no albums on the chart. You? If we don’t have albums on the chart, are we only permitted to talk positively about other people’s albums? Therefore, can we only judge the food that we eat at a restaurant if we’re chefs?

    The purpose of a review is to critique an album. I could write “the album is fun. The End.”, but then there’d be no use in me writing the review in the first place.

  11. I went ahead and purchased the album, to some extent egged on by the review, and I agree with it entirely. The lyrics could be of a higher standard, but it works for some good neotraditional country fun!

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