The debut album from British blues exports Starlite Campbell “Blueberry Pie” is as satisfying as its delicious title.
Starlite Campbell is the passion project of musicians Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell. The duo had been playing and touring in bands for years until they met in 2012, when Starlite asked Campbell to join her band to play guitar. The love extended past each other’s playing and the duo were wed in 2014 after a whirlwind romance, forming their new joint band, Starlite Campbell, in January 2016. To record “Blueberry Pie” they enlisted the talents of drummer Steve Gibson, organist Jonny Henderson and Danny Boy Sanchez on harmonica.
Blues music in a lot of respects is about carrying on a tradition, cementing a musical legacy. For many, it warms the soul in the same way a grandma’s pie does — baked according to the family’s super-secret recipe does, filled with care, love and a respect for legacy. Some people are very particular about that, they don’t want anything but grandma’s cooking. Understandable, but there are so many ways to bake a pie that it would be a shame to only try one
Starlite Campbell has taken the latter approach on “Blueberry Pie.” There is a lot of mixing of 1960s British blues and contemporary fusion and the result is a rich batch of blues that has Starlite Campbell’s deft touch. Take the title track, a soft-spoken acoustic number that sounds like Campbell and Starlite are biding their time on their grandma’s porch as a freshly baked pie cools and wafts through the air. You got Campbell’s slightly haunting slide work and finger-picking on guitar, the duo’s pretty harmony — all the essence of a good blues track. But the phrasing of the melody and chorus stretches outside the range of what you would come to expect from the blues, a subtle but significant change.
The same can be said of the opening “Walkin’ Out The Door.” Henderson’s hook on the Hammond is from the same garden as Booker T’s “Green Onions” and it brings you right into a bluesy haze that is easy to settle into. After a couple bars on this path, Campbell blazes a gut-wrenching solo on his guitar that comes a little out of left field, a welcomed surprise for sure. The band then ends with a harmonizing coda between organ and guitar that would fit well under the surging psychedelic banner of Steppenwolf. Inspired by blues, but definitely not the blues.
The liberal use of Wurlitzer keyboards and Hammond organ give this album a warm, vintage hue and Henderson has a field day on the grooving instrumental “Shimmy.” His playing is respectful of the blues tradition, but Henderson is most riveting when he’s operating on the fringes. His solo on “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is sly and foxy and reveals he’s got plenty of tricks up his sleeve, a real highlight on the second half of the album.
It is Campbell, though, who shines the most. He has a real command of the instrument, delivering everything from bar room grit on “Empire” to testimonial bits of inspirations on the grieving “Cry Over You.” His most accomplished take is the cool and breezy “I Need a Light. Starlite and Henderson provide a succulent rhythm that Campbell has too much fun skipping around on. He lays down a harmonized, two-tone solo on guitar in the middle that is straight serendipitous, an earworm hook that will keep people coming back for more.
“Blueberry Pie” is an accomplished release that shows Starlite Campbell can serve up tasty treats for the soul.
- Starlite Campbell
Label: Supertone Records
Release: Feb. 1, 2017