Baptist preacher's daughter Kate Campbell grew up listening to gospel and hymns from the Baptist Hymnal, as well as soaking in the hits on the radio, hard country jukeboxes, roadhouse Southern rock and Delta-melt R&B, "all on the same station," she says. Her blend of all those styles, together with her unmodified Southern accent and Southern writer eye for the telling detail has taken her a good little piece into the Americana/public radio listening market. Her fans begged her to record a straight-up gospel album, when she found the time. She has and Wandering Strange is it and a real fine gospel album it is, too.
Taking material from sources as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot ("The House You Live In") to eighteenth and nineteenth century compositions ("Come Thou Fount", "The King's Business") to her own tunes ("Bear It Away," "The Last Song"), Wandering Strange is nonetheless pure Southern it all its part. Recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and with the aid of several of Fame's in-house players, the sound evokes those hits from the Sixties, wrapping Campbell's Mississippi-to-Kentucky accent in a butter-won't-melt blanket of warm sweetness.
To hear Baptist-style hymns with whispery guitar backgrounds rather than the clink of an old upright in a wooden church might set some folks back, though truth be known, nothing is added to this recording that isn't perfectly familiar to anyone who has lived through the last thirty or so years. A Hammond B-3 organ might be beyond the budget of small churches but the sound still fits like a new set of lace curtains on the front window of the parlor.
Fans of Campbell's songwriting won't be disappointed, as the hymnal underpinnings of her writing become clear in the tunes composed for this project, including "10,000 Lures," co-written with Mark Namore. The Campbell-Spooner Oldham composition "Now Is the Day of Salvation" might well be considered as already in the repertoire; it certainly preaches the proper message.
The last song, "The Last Song," co-written with Walt Aldridge, is Campbell's only really odd indulgence in this otherwise perfect gospel album. The idea is simple: following the last supper, Jesus and his disciplines, while walking to Gethsemane, start singing "an old song," and the disciples pick up the harmony: "Matthew started singing the low part, John grabbed the high harmony." Odd, but it works, just like the rest of this quietly perfect album.