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Auburn | Blue Ridge Reveille (Independent)
Shelley Campbell to her friends, Auburn to the world, is a prime mover in the Vancouver roots scene, and the perfect example of the mutual support network that exists in her type of performer in that city. As founder of R.A.N.C.H. - a loose-knit collective of like-minded alt.country and folk musicians - she organises RanchFest, ensuring that these generally wonderful bands have a platform in sharp focus at least once a year. Consequently (though not necessarily initiated by her), a situation has developed where everyone now pops up on everyone else's work, by way of solidarity. 'Blue Ridge Reveille', then, boasts a virtual A-Z of Vancouver's roots cream. At the helm (and on a multitude of instruments) is Flophouse Jr's genius-about-town Jon Wood, once again fanning out his highly coloured production tail feathers on an album that maintains the D.I.Y. ethic so beloved of him, having been laid down in her lounge. Considering the lush arrangements, sense of space and sonic clarity, it is further evidence of the baffling talent of this man. But, this is no Botham's Ashes, as also present are the not inconsiderable talents of members of Bottleneck, Bughouse 5, Bocephus King and The Rigalattos, Coal (who Wood is also in) and Radiogram (who Campbell is also in), amongst others. Keeping up? Flying a flag can make you a lot of friends, and it's a real bonus if they're as talented as the mob present here. But, does such a locally stellar cast gel in this instance? Very, very nearly. Being a more traditional country sound than has emerged from Vancouver in the last couple of years, it's played pretty straight, largely free of the idiosyncrasies and nuances that has brought so much attention to the likes of Flophouse Jr and Radiogram and those waiting in the wings, such as Yardsale and Mazinaw. With a strong and classic female country voice, it is the ballads that soar highest; Drivin' You, A Waltz, the lovely Dreamin' and the title track are particularly effective - solid, authentic, modern country music. (However, the best ballad of all would have been the stunning version of Is It You? circulated in advance as a sublime duet with the 'Gram's Ken Beattie. Inexplicably, that superior version is omitted in favour of a solo take. What's the story?!). But Nightsong is the highlight here - a gently rolling killer of a pop song, propelled by Wood's banjo and pianorgan, and the guitars of Bottleneck's own precocious wunderkind Scott Smith, who is also all over this album. In my head, it's a # 1 single. 'Blue Ridge Reveille' is a huge leap forward from Auburn's rockabilly- flavoured 'Misfit Café' 1997 debut, and at this rate, Campbell's grassroots ethics could soon be seriously challenged when the men with ponytails and cell phones come a-wavin' their cheque books. With her passion and class, there is absolutely no reason in the current musical climate why she should not follow Neko Case and Oh Susanna on to coffee tables everywhere. But, can she do it without her friends?