Jack Campbell: Control

Paul Whyte

Jack Campbell is known for his work with the indie-rock band Excuse Me, Princess who placed third in the 2010 Duluth “Battle of the Bands” held at the DECC, an event that showcases young school aged acts. Over the last couple of years EMP has done nothing but progress and have covered everything from all-ages shows to being allowed to play bar gigs.  EMP was signed on by So-TM Records and Campbell has already released several albums and played in a few bands. Keep in mind that Campbell is still in high school and has already done more musically than a lot of musicians twice his age.  

With his solo album, “Control,” Campbell expresses that he’s not messing around. If he continues at this pace, it’s hard to say where he’s heading, but I feel that he may actually be able to make music his life’s work.  I hope Jack  doesn’t read this and decide to not do things like go to college or pursue a “real” career, but I really feel that he shows an amazing amount of promise and talent. It’s not an easy thing to make it in the music business and even the most talented of people sometimes only go so far.

I’ve been noticing a lot more albums available to be downloaded for free and “Control” is one of these. I think that the download approach is probably a good decision for many acts that don’t feel that it’d be worth it to have 500 CDs that they will be lucky to give away, let alone sell.  This isn’t to say that this album isn’t worth at least $5 and there is an option to pay any amount when downloading. I don’t have a credit card and the fact that this will be a positive review, I don’t feel bad about downloading it for free.

I wasn’t expecting this to be an album with a band, but apparently Nate Rendulich, formerly of the post-punk/metal band Blue Water Dance, I’m guessing is on drums, and Keith Yanes of Coal Car Caboose, a ska band that I’m pretty sure has either broken up or haven’t played a show in quite some time, is on bass.  It should be noted that “Control” is in no way punk or ska, it’s more of a mix of singer/songwriter material, pop and indie-rock.  All of these definitions should be used loosely but that’s as close as I can describe the sound of this album.

This album was recorded in Campbell’s basement and although this isn’t the most pristine recording I’ve ever heard, if Campbell didn’t mention that the album was “possibly painfully unmastered” on the download page, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the sound.  

With all this said, let’s get into the review.  The first track, “My Mind is a Wreck,” is a poppy rock number and I was pleasantly surprised by it.  The lyrics aren’t horribly deep, but it’s very easy to like.  “I can’t stand to look at you, I wanna see you soon, I’ve way to much pride, I hate everything I do,” goes the chorus.  It’s not Bob Dylan but is easily more solid than most top 40 music coming out.

The song “Fake Sorries” mentions that “I think I finally lost my mind” in the lyrics.  In the “My Mind is a Wreck” Campbell sings “Cause I can’t believe the things I’ve done, there is not distance I could run, to get away, to finally feel safe, or to convince myself it’s okay to go insane.” There are several mentions of insanity in the album and most of the lyrics seem above Campbell’s years.  Of course I think being a teenager can be a pretty emotional time in one’s life, it’s just kind of different to hear those lyrics from someone so young. 

The song “Control” starts with a soft intro with what seems like an acoustic guitar and cuts away to a decently paced pop-rock number.  Several of these songs feature keys or piano, this particular song has a nice underlying piano.  I did notice that the drums seem to be kind of quiet at first, but then the levels seem to rise in the second verse and then continue at that level.  I like the ending where it just cuts to the guitar and has one last note from the piano.

Speaking of piano and singer/songwriter material, “Kaleidoscope” is just terrific.  It’s a well written song that is bare bones with mostly the piano and Campbell’s voice. He either has a touch sensitive keyboard or is using a real piano, because there’s a little bit of variation on the volume.  A simple and tasteful guitar part underlies the song.  Campbell’s vocal delivery is somewhat candid and comfortable.  It’s obvious that he knows exactly what he’s doing and pulls it off wonderfully.

The song “For Heaven’s Sake” starts out fairly minimalist, just featuring what sounds like an acoustic and Campbell’s voice.  I definitely enjoy the odd keyboard effect that brings in the full sound of drums, keys, guitar and a little bit of a taste of scat. 

I am fairly impressed by this album especially considering that it’s a DIY project.  Campbell’s songwriting and singing is beyond his years to say the least.  The minor sound issues in this album are easily offset by the material and delivery.  Look up and download this album and maybe kick this kid a few bucks because he definitely deserves the support.

Campbell will be performing with his band Excuse Me, Princess along with The Thunder Brothers and Machine 22 at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior Friday, January 27. The show will be free, starts after 9 p.m. and is 21+.