“Jim Campilongo’s brand of artistic bravery is rare and to be treasured.” -No Depression “His supple moves can keep an audience enthralled--meaning their asses wiggle and their minds jiggle. Few connect the
dots between jazz and twang like this guy.” -Village Voice
“An overall killer course on How To Play Your Instrument Putting All Others to Shame.” -Billboard
November 4, 2009 — Orange, linguists like to point out, is the most famous word in the English language that has no rhyme. It stands alone, in a class by itself, boldly declaring its independence and spirit of defiance. It’s entirely appropriate, then, that guitarist Jim Campilongo’s ninth album bears that lone word--Orange--as its title. Critics and his legion of fans are so accustomed to pairing the word unique and the name Campilongo that they’ve come to take this superb musician’s indomitable inventiveness for granted. Like that bright color that dazzles the eyes every time, Jim Campilongo’s Orange is a blast of freshness, light and boldness that practically dares listeners to find anything else remotely like it.
Campilongo is a credited composer, a guitarist’s guitarist, a master of the Telecaster praised by aficionados for his seamless symbiosis of styles and sounds, singled out for his abundance of technique, bottomless well of surprises and deeply emotive playing. Orange is a reminder of just why this artist, whose work is so evocative, always packed with unexpected twists and turns, was praised by Amazon.com, which raved: “[Campilongo] exhibits a combination of aggressive squalling, sharp wit, sensitive melodicism, quirkiness and compositional skill, all with using a musical language that is uniquely his own.”
Or, as The Tonequest Report put it in an advance review of the new album--due February 16 from Blue Hen Records-- “Orange offers another vivid glimpse into the mind of an artist who paints masterpieces with the guitar.” Rarely does an album by one artist display the range of diversity that Orange does. The segue from the opening track, the raw and rockin’ roadhouse boogie “Backburner,” to the sweet, crisp, Chet Atkins-toned “Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful,” is so jarring yet strangely natural that it suggests it’s impossible for the same artist to have been behind both tracks, or at least to have rendered both so brilliantly.
But that’s only the beginning. Both the title track and “Because You Like Trombone” (which appeared previously on Campilongo’s Heaven Is Creepy album but here serves one of two duets with guitarist Steve Cardenas) are exquisite, moody acoustic gems, and “Huckleberry” is a sleepy, swampy Southern stroll that finds Campilongo bending notes as surely as the mighty Mississippi refuses to follow a straight path. “Blues for Roy,” meanwhile, pays tribute to one of Campilongo’s greatest influences, the late, great guitarist Roy Buchanan. “I’ve Got Blisters on My Fingers,” which lifts its title from a comment following the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” (but was actually conceived as “a Miles Davis thing” by Campilongo), is appropriately blistering.
The choice of cover material on Orange is as unpredictable as the licks that spill out of Jim’s Tele. “No Expectations,” the Rolling Stones classic, is one of two tracks on this otherwise all-instrumental set featuring the warm and inviting vocals of Leah Siegel. The other is a minimalist interpretation of The Stooges’ “No Fun” that retains the raunch of the original without sounding anything like it. Campilongo puts his own distinctive stamp on jazz composer extraordinaire Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” and closes out the album with an almost eerie but wistful “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Each of the album’s other tracks--”I’m Helen Keller And You’re a Waffle Iron” (song title of the year or what?), “Fingerpuppet” and “Maceo”--adds another scene to the landscape that is Jim Campilongo’s music.
Produced by New York City legend Anton Fier (Golden Palominos) and recorded in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Orange teams Campilongo with acoustic bassist Stephan Crump and drummer/percussionist Tony Mason. The Campilango Trio has brought their deep groove to Orange that was developed over their celebrated four-year residency at The Living Room, which Time Out NY recently named one of the “Top 50 Essential NYC Secrets.” Regarding Orange, Campilongo says, “I was determined to make a great timeless record. I consciously went through my record collection and listened to all these amazing recordings... The Who’s Live At Leeds, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow, A Session with Chet Atkins, Julie London’s Julie Is Her Name, Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks and I tried to ascertain the tangible qualities about these albums that I could apply to Orange. After many conversations with Anton and the band, we went ahead with a recording agenda that I hoped would position us to capture the spirit and the intangibles that make up the ingredients of an exceptional record.”
Anton Fier comments, “We wanted Orange to be different from Jim’s other records...more than just documenting a moment in time. We wanted to paint a more complete portrait of who Jim is as a person, a musician, composer and artist. The record had to be crafted in such a way that captured the different sides of Jim’s music while still holding together as a cohesive whole. We didn’t want it to be just a collection of tracks, but an album, where the individual songs were chapters in a larger story or journey.”
Campilongo has certainly caught plenty of attention since his arrival on the scene in the mid-’70s in his native San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, in addition to releasing several albums under his own name, he’s served as a go-to guitarist for artists such as Martha Wainwright, Cake and Teddy Thompson, and has appeared on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s TV programs. He is also a published guitar teacher and contributing editor for Guitar Player magazine.
In 2002, Campilongo moved to New York City, where he formed his band the Electric Trio and began a critically acclaimed Monday night weekly residency at the Living Room club. He was also a key member of the NYC-based band The Little Willies, which also included no less than Norah Jones and released an album in 2006.
Campilongo’s first albums, cut with his then-band the Ten Gallon Cats, already found him exploring the common ground shared by country, jazz, blues and rock, and his 1998 set, Table For One, was praised by Billboard as “Americana at its most touching.” Heaven Is Creepy (2007) was his best received to date, with California’s East Bay Express commenting, “His music has echoes of Django Reinhardt, Buck Owens, Bach, Duke Ellington, the Beatles, and a panoply of folk, blues, jazz, and rock styles. Comped chords, delicate filigreed fills, long quavering sustained notes, and shimmering overtones slide together to produce a deep, moody, impressionistic sound.” All Music Guide also weighed in with a glowing review, noting, “The tracks are packed with ideas and occupy a unique musical landscape that combines Western American twang, Spaghetti Western atmosphere, surf guitar dynamism, jazzy dissonance and a blue, cinematic sweep that’s almost visual in its approach.”
With the release of Orange, the forward momentum will undoubtedly keep on going and the plaudits will keep on coming. And as if that isn’t enough excitement for one guitar player, Campilongo is currently collaborating with Fender Guitars on a Custom Shop Campilongo Signature Telecaster. “The neck will be an exact replica of the neck on my ‘59 and the prototype feels great!” he says. “I am obsessively experimenting and consulting with Fender (and my guitar geek friends) so we can make a great guitar for players to consider viable, and most importantly, for me to play.” The guitar should be available in January 2010.
It certainly appears that 2010 will be the year for Jim Campilongo.