The best album of the year (so far) crept up and caught me on the cusp of the virus, but thankfully in time to keep me company through this and future madnesses. Peter Campbell’s own website doesn’t tell much of a story—from NYC, educated in the U.S. and Canada, studied with Joyce McLean at Juilliard, working for 30 years, but only three albums, at least since his move to Toronto in 2012.
And frankly, a bit of intrigue works for the man. He seems to have mysteriously materialized at the microphone, not a frightening ghost but an airy, melancholy spirit getting intimate with that mic and a gossamer-small audience in a hypothetical cabaret. Noisier, brassier acts might take his place later on; but that means nothing. He knows the fleetingness of the moment and the uncertainty of the future, so he accedes to the now and occasionally, understandably, hides in the past.
The sextet here (voice, two guitars, bass, keyboards, trumpet) oddly includes no drums to stomp or snap through the mix. Everything slides smooth here, but vivid enough to keep clear of muzak. On Songbook classics by Berlin, Coleman/Leigh, and Warren/Gershwin and more modern compositions by Jimmy Webb, Joni Mitchell, and Fred Hersch, Campbell sings ahead, behind, and squarely on the beat, never muffing a move, sounding old and young, male and female; and yes, sad, but grasping the happiness in communicating sad. The soft pride, worn lightly, of a job well done, a vocation fulfilled.