A New Year with Campy’s “Dream Dictionary”

Only two months in, 2014 has already seen a raft of great guitar album releases (stay tuned for more highlights). Regular readers should know by now that I’m a huge Jim Campilongo fan and was eagerly awaiting the January 21st release of Dream Dictionary. It’s been a month since release day, and it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that I still have the disc in heavy rotation.

Dream Dictionary is consistent with Jim’s creative trajectory since American Hips (2003). Operating largely in a trio format (Dictionary features Josh Dion on drums and Chris Morrissey on bass), Campy picks, bends, and squawks his way through twelve tunes that demonstrate his uncanny ability to infuse the well-trodden soundscapes of Americana with a beautifully eclectic and instantly recognizable electric imprint. Fans of the guitarist’s output over the past decade should find themselves in familiar territory as Campilongo navigates through reverb-laden slow burners (“The Past is Looking Brighter and Brighter”), loping snap-and-pop blues excursions (“Nang Nang”), and the requisite guest appearance by Norah Jones (“Here I Am”), a frequent collaborator vis-à-vis the Little Willies.

While Dream Dictionary isn’t a radical departure, there is evidence of an evolution in Jim’s sound that was starting to become readily apparent on his last album, Orange (2010). Jim’s early recordings with the 10 Gallon Cats were rooted in country and western swing; subsequent trio recordings relaxed the breakneck tempos and explored moodier, jazzier territory. Jim certainly hasn’t abandoned those influences in recent years, but his affinity for the more eccentric capabilities of the electric guitar – feedback, overdrive, pinch harmonics, and microtonal bends – has increasingly taken center stage since Orange. Most guitarists employ these techniques for novelty effect; Campilongo, by stark contrast, has made them central to his musical vocabulary.

In a recent interview, Campy noted that he had been listening to a lot of 70s-era Miles Davis while writing the material for Dream Dictionary, manifested in the slow, sinister funk of the album’s opener (“Cock and Bull Story”) and the meditative title track. However, to a greater degree than any previous Campilongo album, this one seems to channel a more fundamental influence – the late Roy Buchanan. Roy’s imprint on Jim has always been evident, but Dictionary takes the listener in darker and more intensely contemplative directions than ever before, forging a soulful connection to the music that recalls the best of Buchanan’s early recordings (before the tragic picker’s inner demons took a toll on the consistency of his output). Reassuringly, Dream Dictionary closes with the upbeat and playful “Pie Party,” a galloping country romp that reminds us of Jim Campilongo’s lighter side and his consistent ability to connect with audiences on multiple levels — both musical and emotional.

Campilongo Album Preview

No, I didn’t obtain a secret bootleg of Dream Dictionary, the new Jim Campilongo album due out January 21st. But there is a great interview with Jim in the latest issue of Premier Guitar, in which he discusses the album and his creative process. And a live clip on YouTube of the title track. In the interview, Campilongo notes that he was inspired by Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way. The influence is evident on this tune, which reflects the meditative yet dynamic vibe of that album — while still bearing Campy’s indelible sonic stamp.

If you’re as anxious as I am for Dream Dictionary, I suggest biding your time with In A Silent Way. The all-star cast of post-bop and fusion luminaries includes a young John McLaughlin on guitar, whose bluesy lead lines and funky comping are interwoven throughout. While controversial with jazz critics at the time, it’s a more restrained statement by comparison to what followed in the form of Bitches Brew.

Tuneage a-brewin’

Much to look forward to on the six-string musical horizon! I recently received this update from Jim Campilongo headquarters:

“I’m really pleased to announce that the Campilongo Trio with Chris Morrissey and Josh Dion are going to record a new full length album called ‘Dream Dictionary.’ This record will capture what Josh, Chris and I have been up to, which has been really wonderful — if I do say so myself. ‘Dream Dictionary’ will be released sometime this Summer/Fall on i-tunes, CD and vinyl.”

Also this from my good friend and all-around folk hero Jana Pochop:

“I just scheduled some studio time for October at Rubicon with Daniel Barrett. That means there’s gonna be a new EP! Finally!”

And finally this from Kurt Rosenwinkel’s label, Word of Mouth Music:

“In the past few years Kurt has been doing more and more solo shows…Of course it is an open secret that Kurt Rosenwinkel is presently working on a new solo album that we will be releasing on our Wommusic label in early 2014.”

Now the waiting begins…


Jim Campilongo Electric Trio at Atwood’s Tavern (Cambridge, MA 10/07/2012)

While I certainly have a shortlist of favorite guitar players, I find it hard to choose just one that stands out as my “all-time” favorite. Everyone on that list brings something unique and interesting to the music. That said, if you forced me to choose just one plectrist, I would be inclined to name Jim Campilongo. Since relocating to the East Coast two years ago, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to catch him live; I finally had my chance last Sunday at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge.

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