Tribute albums are a tricky business. The best tribute records highlight the genius of the artist being covered while allowing the artists singing the covers to shine by putting their own individual stamp on the songs. The worst tribute albums just make you want to run screaming back to the original recordings.
It’s the type of project only the bravest musicians attempt, and one that only the most talented manage to pull off convincingly.
Maine music stalwart Don Campbell certainly has that talent. And how’s this for bravery: Not only did he decide to tackle the music of Dan Fogelberg, he decided to make his tribute album a double album! Depending on how one feels about the music of Mr. Fogelberg, this is either a really great idea or a recipe for career suicide.
Turns out, in the skilled hands of Campbell, it’s a brilliant idea.
Part heartfelt thank-you note, part gushing fan letter and part spiritual offering, “Kites to Fly” works on multiple levels. As an overview of the music of Fogelberg, Campbell makes it work by dipping into just about every phase of the late artist’s career.
The hits are here, of course, like “Run for the Roses,” “Leader of the Band” and “Part of the Plan.” Earlier works are well represented too, with Campbell covering two songs from 1972’s “Home Free” and three from 1974’s “Souvenirs.” There’s even a cover of one track from the posthumous “Love in Time” CD from 2009.
It would have been easy for Campbell to just go in and re-record Fogelberg’s greatest hits. But by giving a nod to all the different phases of his career, Campbell showcases what a magnificently (and deceptively) diverse song catalogue Fogelberg created.
Campbell delivers his versions of the songs with love and reverence. Many of the covers on the album are surprisingly faithful to the originals, with Campbell playing multiple instruments and harmonizing with himself on most of the tracks.
Surprises abound, however, like the gorgeous Spanish guitar in “Tuscon, Arizona” and the stark and sparse rendition of “Same Old Lang Syne,” which you wouldn’t think would have the same impact without the sorrowful sax solo that closes out the original.
But somehow, Campbell makes it work. You can hear the joy in his voice, even as he delivers the often sad and/or dark Fogelberg lyrics. Clearly, Campbell has a deeply personal relationship with each and every one of these songs, and this only adds weight to songs that were moving to begin with, now made even more so through the power of his delivery.
Several guest musicians add their talents as well, including Tom Yoder, who’s haunting violin adds just a touch of mournful country and western to some of the songs such as “Longer.” Jonathan Edwards adds a touch of the lone prairie in the form of some great harmonica work to “Sutter’s Mill,” and the laid-back and tasteful percussion of Todd “The Rocket” Richard adds the perfect touch exactly where and when it’s needed, and serves as a sturdy musical foundation.
And, of course, the album sounds gorgeous from a technical perspective as well, lovingly produced by Campbell himself with just the right amount of gloss and a tiny bit of modern country twang.
For most people, it’s a love/hate relationship when it comes to the music of Fogelberg. If you’re not already a fan, “Kites to Fly” is not going to convert you. But it might turn you into a big Campbell fan.
And if you already love Fogelberg, you’ll be shocked and pleasantly surprised at the new life Campbell manages to breathe into songs we all thought we knew so well.
As Campbell describes in his liner notes, “The songs of Dan Fogelberg are like beautiful kites that should be taken out and flown.”
Grab a copy of this double CD and take flight with Don and Dan. Log on to doncampbellmusic.com for more information.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at: