Craig Campbell - Class Of '89

Grindstone Recordings


The first thing that hit me when I heard this latest release from Craig Campbell was the feeling it was recorded in a bar. Alongside his regular road band, Craig delivers a diverse collection of classic 1980s and 1990s country hits, that more than ably cover an important era of Nashville’s grand legacy. These are the songs that Craig and his trusty group of musicians played when the singer was cutting his teeth playing local gigs around his hometown of Lyons, Georgia, prior to his move to Nashville some twenty years ago. By tackling songs originally recorded by Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Restless Heart and Randy Travis, it highlights the wide range of influences that course through his own art and showcases the original artists’ quality of songcraft. This is the music of a singer and a group of superb musicians, who freewheelingly chart a course through eloquent timeless country music and bring it back into focus for today’s listeners. And that live feel is what makes this five-song EP so special, and in my mind, necessarily authentic.

From the click of an old-fashioned record player as you press play, I was transported back some 30 years to how country music used to be. I have nothing against today’s version of the music that I’ve long been passionate about. I readily accept that all musical genres need to change and evolve, but this is the kind of country music that remains closer to my heart. The driving beat of Killin’ Time kicks things off, with Craig’s rich twangy vocal accompanied by fiddle, pedal steel and a rock-solid rhythm section, which instantly invites feet to tap, helped along by the oh-so-familiar singalong chorus. Piano sets the tone for the gorgeous Bluest Eyes In Texas, with sliding steel guitar licks, plaintive fiddle and percussive thumps. Craig’s own soulful vocals, enhanced by three-part vocal harmonies, leak into that distinctive country-rock sound that I absolutely love.

Craig and his band take us deep into the back of a dimly lit honky-tonk with a stunning rendition of Mark Chesnutt’s Too Cold At Home. Mournful steel guitar opens the song on an ominous note, with Craig contributing a strong lead vocal as the break-up story unfolds to the accompaniment of piano, muted electric lead and fiddle. He remains in the barroom for the plodding On The Other Hand, coming close to matching Randy Travis’ deep vocal tones. Then ups the tempo for a fiddle-driven rendition of John Michael Montgomery’s Be My Baby. He closes this much too short set with a stripped-back rendition of Travis Tritt’s Anymore, featuring just Craig’s emotive voice accompanied by an acoustic piano. Pure magic. Despite this apparent loose approach to recording, it remains obvious that Craig and his top-notch players do these cover song favourites justice.

May 2024