Saturday, January 27, 2007

The top 10 albums of 2006: No. 4

Camera Obscura
Let's Get Out of This Country

Whatever personal matters Tracyanne Campbell and her fellow Scots sowed after 2004's "Underachievers
Please Try Harder," those seeds grew into some beautiful compositions, rich in country sway and Motown rhythm.

Warm, full arrangements frame Campbell's '60s-pop voice as she sidles through rocky relationships and frustration.

"I hope and I pray he'll leave me one day," she sings on "The False Contender," only to bemoan two tracks later, "I won't be seeing you for a long while / I hope it's not as long as a country mile."

"Dory Previn" adds to the subtext: The first husband of singer-songwriter Previn dropped her for Mia Farrow, and the protagonist finds solace in Previn's music, turning it "up to eleven for the band's ears to bleed." Fictional band or not, it's hard to tell, though co-founder and vocalist John Henderson did quit Camera Obscura shortly before the recording sessions for "Let's Get Out of This Country." So co-founder Campbell wrote all the lyrics and performed lead vocals on every song.

Her bandmates, producer Jari Haapalainen and the other players help her give the album the vintage feeling her songs call for. Together, the collective provide the violins and cello, the lazy accordion that wafts through "The False Contender," the choir on "I Need All the Friends I Can Get," the clip-clop cadence of "Dory Previn."

"Razzle Dazzle Rose" is essentially a country song with trumpet and without twang. If Loretta Lynn switched places with Campbell, she'd find herself at home with the shuffle-step of the snare and tambourine.

On the other hand, maybe Campbell has all the country she needs, because she swings through "If Looks Could Kill" (her first name is Tracyanne, after all). To be fair, though, that track, with all its ricocheting, has more in common with Phil Spector's Wall of Sound than with Nashville.

"Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken," the album's finest piece, chugs along care of a Motown-inspired rhythm section. From the peals of the church organ to the earnest choruses to the final unified cutoff, it's magic. It evokes the buzz of a perfect live take in a '60s recording studio. It's easy to imagine the engineers nodding their heads, the vibrations on the wood floor, the producer tapping his foot, the reels turning, the little needles wobbling. Goose bumps, for sure.

Not that they'll go away anytime soon.


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