Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Ted Russell Kamp: “California Son” (2024) CD Review

The best thing about living in Los Angeles (yes, even better than the weather and being able to work in the film industry) is the music. There is some tremendous talent in this city, and often musicians will lend a hand on each other’s projects, so it’s possible to see some of the same folks in many different contexts playing a variety of different music. One such talented musician is Ted Russell Kamp, who has performed with a good range of artists, usually on bass (I wish I’d been at the Cinema Bar a few weeks ago when he sat in with Hot Club Of Los Angeles), and also has his own material. He is an important part of that delicious southern California sound, and Los Angeles often provides subjects for his songs. His new album, California Son, features all original material, written or co-written by Ted Russell Kamp. On this album he plays bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, organ, and percussion. Yes, he’s a full band by himself, but he does have some guests joining him on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, which begins with these lines: “I left New York in the rear view/With the open road ahead.” There is always something appealing about hitting the road, isn’t there? And of course that’s how most of us got to Los Angeles. This is a song about being a musician, and he mentions several of those iconic places of Los Angeles, including Laurel Canyon and the Troubadour. There is no question but that Ted Russell Kamp is a California son, and the song speaks to all of us who have adopted this land, and have felt adopted by it in turn. “I’m not the only one/But I’m a California son.” Brian Whelan is on guitar and backing vocals on this track, and Zachary Ross also plays guitar. Sasha Smith is on keyboards. That’s followed by “Hard To Hold,” which has more of a rock vibe as it begins, with a strong beat. Dave Raven is on drums. This song’s first lines mention a car (“an old Chevy Nova”) and driving, which of course is a big part of Los Angeles. We spend a lot of time in our cars, not always by choice. “She’s driving through the hot night/Been putting up a good fight/With only one headlight/To see.” Driving continues to play a part throughout the track: “She’s rolling through a stop light/But it’s going to be all right/She’s going to spend midnight/With me.” John Schreffler joins Ted Russell Kamp on guitar and backing vocals on this track. “Hard To Hold” was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Eli Wulfmeier.

Ted Russell Kamp slows things down just a bit for “One Word At A Time,” which has a more introspective feel. Here he sings, “Another empty page today/Another search for something to say/But it’s the life I chose/And I’m going to find my way/One word at a time, one word at a time.” Yes, this one too is about being a songwriter. Both Jenny Van West and Ed DesJardins join him on backing vocals on this track. Ted Russell Kamp played bass on Jenny Van West’s 2018 album Happiness To Burn. These lines stand out for me: “And these lines I write are the best way out the door/When I’m all stuck inside/I paint a picture in my mind/And I’m one step closer to what I’m hoping to find.” Bart Ryan adds some nice work on guitar, and Jamie Douglass plays drums. If I recall correctly, I heard Ted Russell Kamp play this song at that Tuesday night jam at Ireland’s 32 in December. And it’s followed by a song I saw him perform at his show at Ireland’s 32 on December 29th, “Shine On.” This one was co-written by Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, members of I See Hawks In L.A. I’m still coming to terms with Paul Lacques no longer being here. He was another of those musicians who made a great impact in this city, and played with a wide variety of artists himself. He plays on this track as well. Paul Marshall and Rob Waller also lend their incredible voices to this song. So, yeah, three of the four members of I See Hawks In L.A. perform on this track. It’s probably no surprise that this is one of my personal favorites, though I find myself fighting tears while listening to it. “Shine on, shine on/Like a flame that dances just above the ember/Shine on, shine on/Like a dream that you just can’t quite remember.” It’s a beautiful song. There is a phrase in its lyrics that was the title of a screenplay that I wrote a couple of decades ago (I should dig that thing out), “Halfway To Somewhere.” Jim Doyle plays drums on this one.

“The Upside To The Downslide” is a bluesy country rocker, a fun track. “The upside to the downslide/Is there’s nothing left to lose/I may be coming in too hot/But at least I’m on the move.” Yup, it’s a song that speaks to me and makes me glad I have a beer in my hand. Tommi Viksten plays guitar on this track, and Janne Haavisto is on drums. Then Dan Wistrom joins Ted Russell Kamp on “Ballad Of The Troubadour,” another beautiful number, another of the disc’s highlights, and another about music, featuring a heartfelt vocal performance and gorgeous work on pedal steel. Dave Raven is again on drums, and Matt Lomeo delivers some wonderful work on harmonica. “Down every road to every show/It’s the only life he’s ever known/Ballad of the troubadour.” This song was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Shane Alexander, and is followed by “High Desert Fever.” There is a joy in the delivery of this cheerful country number right from its opening moments. This one also places us on the road early on: “Well, I’m rolling down Highway 29/Headed to a place that would ease my mind.” Brian Whelan and John Schreffler provide backing vocals, and you might be singing along before too long. Jim Doyle provides some really nice work on drums. “High Desert Fever” was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Ted Wulfers.

“Firelight” has a gentler vibe as it begins, with some pretty work on guitar and a sweet vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Cicadas break the silence/As I light a fire/Magic in the flames/As they grow higher/With all that stands before me/And battles left to fight/I’ll keep this fire within me burning bright.” Shane Alexander and Justine Bennett provide backing vocals on this moving song. Ted Russell Kamp picks up the energy again with “Miracle Mile,” another song about Los Angeles, about a specific part of L.A. that includes a section of Wilshire Blvd., and is about driving. Well, here it’s referred to as cruising, which makes being stuck in your car sound so much better. “I want to pick you up right around a quarter to four/So we can cruise around town.” Later in the song he sings, “I’ve got a full tank of gas, my baby and a bottle of wine.” Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s because I’m poor, but these days when I hear about a full tank of gas, I think, “Man, that’s at least sixty dollars.” Anyway, this is another fun number. “It’ll be fun in the sun/While we’re rolling down the Miracle Mile.” This song was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Mike Dawson.

“Hangin’ On Blues” begins with a catchy bass line. And when Ted’s vocals come in, they are supported by just that bass line, which is great, giving this number its own special sound. “It’s like everyone’s living on minimum wage/It’s more than enough to drive a man to rage/But if you can’t afford the book, you can’t turn the page/All about the hangin’ on blues/I’ve been hangin’ on/For so damn long/Trying to make sense of it all.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who relates completely to this song. And though it’s the blues, this song has a rather upbeat feel. It is yet another of the disc’s highlights. It’s followed by “Roll Until The Sun Comes Up.” Brian Whelan co-wrote this one, and provides backing vocals. Stephen Musselman and Elijah Ocean play guitar on this track. This track also features some good work on keys. There is a nice energy to this track, in the guitar work and Ted Russell Kamp’s vocals. The album concludes with “Every Little Thing.” There is a certain amount of attitude in Ted Russell Kamp’s delivery as he sings those opening lines, “Sometimes you get blindsided/And you get pushed around/You walk right into a sucker punch/You get knocked down/Then you dig your own deep grave.” But the song offers hope and a more positive outlook in its chorus, and that’s what we hold onto.

CD Track List

  1. California Son
  2. Hard To Hold
  3. One Word At A Time
  4. Shine On
  5. The Upside To The Downslide
  6. Ballad Of The Troubadour
  7. High Desert Fever
  8. Firelight
  9. Miracle Mile
  10. Hangin’ On Blues
  11. Roll Until The Sun Comes Up
  12. Every Little Thing

California Son is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2024.

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