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Heaven Is Creepy

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Album Review

Most instrumental rock albums aren't worth the time it takes to listen to them. They're usually too pretentious, with pickers trying to play free-form jazz/blues licks without the ability to remain focused. Jim Campilongo, the cowboy noir picker from San Francisco who moved to New York to become an in-demand session player and frequent collaborator with Norah Jones, doesn't have that problem. The tracks on this mostly instrumental set are packed with ideas and occupy a unique musical landscape that combines Western American twang, Spaghetti Western atmosphere, surf guitar dynamism, jazzy dissonance. and a blue, cinematic sweep that's almost visual in its approach. Campilongo knows enough to keep his compositions short and sweet, concentrating on dynamics, mood, and tension to keep the tunes interesting. "Heaven Is Creepy," the title tune, has a sinister, late-night, film noir feel, accented by bassist Tim Luntzel's swooping, low notes and drummer Dan Rieser's minimal percussion. Campilongo's bent notes scream through the air like a wounded ambulance limping away from the scene of an accident. "Nellie Bly" has the feel of a Texas swing dance tune, with Campilongo producing pedal steel-like notes on his guitar, and tapping the strings to produce harmonics that hang in the air over the double-time cadence of the rhythm section. "The Prettiest Girl in New York" sounds like Django Reinhardt and Les Paul dueling for supremacy in an Tulsa honky tonk. At first, "Mr & Mrs Mouse" brings to mind the theme music of a '60s spy flick, then it switches gears into a sinister, clanging, Link Wray-like interlude, slowly becoming as quiet as the proverbial mouse with Campilongo getting violin-like tones out of the guitar, possibly with the use of an Ebow, while Luntzel and Rieser freak out in the background. Every tune shows off Campilongo's dynamic range with unexpected shifts of tone, timbre, and tempo, always driving the music forward even as it twists and turns back on itself like a drunken rattlesnake chasing its own tail. The guest vocalists allow the guitarist to show off his discreet talents as an accompanist. Martha Wainwright sings Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" in an emotional, vaudevillian manner, while Campilongo lays back, dropping sparse harmonic overtones around her vocals. Norah Jones moans the vocal of "Cry Me a River" while Campilongo alternates between quiet strummed chords and lazy, reverb soaked single note runs. ~ j. poet, Rovi


Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Jim Campilongo was born and raised in San Francisco and began playing guitar in the mid-'70s, buying his first guitar with Green Stamps. His first teacher exposed him to a wide variety of music, but it was hearing Roy Buchanan that convinced him to make a living as a guitarist. By the early '90s, Campilongo was taking guitar students, in addition to playing with a variety of groups in a variety of styles. In 1990, one of those students gave him a 1959 Telecaster in exchange for some bass lessons...
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Heaven Is Creepy, Jim Campilongo
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