Shawn Camp

1994

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When Shawn Camp cut his self-titled album for Warner/Reprise back in 1994, he was riding the coattails of two charting singles from his debut the previous year: "Never Felt So Good" and "Confessin' My Love." The artist, management, and industry insiders assumed the set would be a breakout. When it was turned over to the label, however, it was deemed "uncommercial," and a wave of changes was "suggested." (This was the era when Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, and Martina McBride had broken wide open and were topping the charts.) Camp refused and the album was shelved. Fast forward to 2009 when Warner Music Nashville President/CEO John Esposito caught Camp at a guitar pull during a music conference and was impressed. He discovered that the company owned the album, and went through the steps to bring it to market. On the one hand, one can almost exonerate the company for not releasing it at the time. Compared to the aforementioned artists, Camp's meld of rootsy acoustic and electric instruments playing bluegrass and honky tonk-inspired modern country music was nowhere on the charts in 1994. That said, excellence is excellence: nobody ever told George Strait he couldn't release a record because he was too country. Camp's collection of originals and covers is timeless; it sounds "classic," not nostalgic. Other than the choogling opener "Near Mrs." with its up-front Telecasters and tight ringing snare drums, everything else here is far more traditional. Whether it's a moving ballad such as "My Frame of Mind," the broken-hearted two-step "Little Bitty Crack in Her Heart" with its whinnying fiddles and Dobros, the electric bluegrass in "Stop, Look and Listen (Cow Catcher Blues)," or the midtempo honky tonker "Worn Through Stone," this album is the place where the history of country music meets the future and melds rather than clashes, for a lone reason: it's honest. The record espouses a quiet passion, even in its humorous moments ("Movin' on Up to a Double Wide"). Camp's mellifluous tenor is more like that of an empathic or troubled friend than a country star. Being released in 2010, with records like Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song and Elizabeth Cook's Welder having been so positively received, 1994 might actually stand a chance. That would be a good thing for country as well as Camp.

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