Peter Campbell: Old Flames Never Die

Dan Bilawsky By

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Peter Campbell: Old Flames Never Die
There's a "square peg, round hole" problem holding vocalist Peter Campbell back in the renown department. He doesn't fall into the resounding soul-stirrer category, à la Gregory Porter, the bop poet-philosopher niche, ruled by Kurt Elling, the pure experimentalist's camp, typified by Theo Bleckmann, the neo-soul realm, occupied by José James, the group-minded singer-songwriter space(s), elevated by artists like New York Voices' Peter Eldridge, or any number of other fairly clear-cut categories. The world of male vocalists is, perhaps, the most bracketed in all of jazz, and the light-voiced, bewitching, cabaret-friendly Campbell doesn't neatly slot into any of the established spaces. How else can you explain a lack of solid recognition? Sure, he's in Toronto, which doesn't have the reach or visibility available in his hometown—New York City—or other hot spots like Chicago or L.A. And yes, his work has been self- released, making it more difficult to draw eyes and ears to the music. But Campbell's skills and emotional draw are second to none, his extraordinary Loving You: Celebrating Shirley Horn (Self-Produced, 2017) should have risen from obscurity to become the sleeper vocal album of its year, and Old Flames Never Die deserves that same skyrocketing trajectory.

Working, once again, atop a drum-less combo operating with taste and restraint, Campbell proves spellbinding. From the opening take on Fred Hersch's "Stars" all the way through to the end of the date, he wraps his chiffon-laced cords around a lyric as if embracing the words with a knowing and understanding hug. Scenes obviously change—from the nocturnal wonders of the opener, to the bluesy environs of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "My, How The Time Goes By," to the reflective looks across time on Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"—but sentiments hold steady as hints or full-out nods toward the titular theme (and under-the-radar title track) remain.

With trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, guitarist Reg Schwager and bassist Ross MacIntyre returning from the Shirley Horn tribute project, and pianist Adrean Farrugia and guitarist (and effects-painter) Michael Occhipinti joining the band, Campbell's voice is in good hands throughout. A beautiful mix of acoustic purity and slight electric ambiance sets scenes like "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" with the utmost clarity. Campbell then lights the way through the music, but not without offering space to his band mates. On that particular song, both Schwager and Farrugia shine; elsewhere, Turcotte really gets his due.

While Campbell sings primarily for the song, he doesn't pass up the opportunity to acknowledge his sexual orientation and bring issues of LGBTQ acceptance and acknowledgement further into the light. A piece like Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost In His Arms," ushered in by Turcotte's horn and given over to a bossa-esque treatment, is perfectly clear in its meaning. Another version of the song—an orchestral take that didn't make the album—is worth seeking out on YouTube. Equally attractive, it benefits from the instrumental additions.

With an honesty about self and song, a knack for picking slightly overlooked numbers from classic tunesmiths, a strong kinship with his band mates, and sharp arranging ideas, both as an individual and collaborator, Campbell clearly has a solid skill set. But in the end, brushing all of that aside, it's really his voice that carries the day. Despite the industry's need for tagging artist's and placing them into different bins, all the great ones remain individualists. And Peter Campbell, who may carry a lower profile than he deserves, is most certainly that.

Track Listing

Stars; Two Faces in the Dark; My, How the Time Goes By; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; If You Leave Paris; I Got Lost in His Arms; Old Flames Never Die; There Is No Music; Above the Clouds; Both Sides Now; Why Think About Tomorrow.


Peter Campbell: voice / vocals; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Reg Schwager: guitar; Ross MacIntyre: bass; Kevin Turcotte: trumpet; Michael Occhipinti: guitar.

Album information

Title: Old Flames Never Die | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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