The first time I heard Andrea von Kampen’s music, I was stopped in my tracks. After listening to those first few tracks and eventually interviewing her, I was thrilled to hear that she had a full length debut album out in early 2019. Here’s my official review of Old Country. But let’s not bury the lede here; this is an album of the year candidate from a rising folk star. The complex compositions and impeccable vocals come together for an auditory dream blessed with equal parts whimsy and dirt-on-your sandals rootedness.
Opening track “Tomorrow” invokes the ghost of George Harrison for me every time. The key changes are about as far from conventional pop as a songwriter can get, yet the sensibility feels like Harrison’s iconic “Something.” The stillness presented in the song is highlighted by thoughtful lyrics and a mood-bending instrumental background. It’s a brilliant introduction to the von Kampen sound.
“Mama said beware of nice men” is one of those lyrics that ellicits a wry smile right away. The witty, maternal wisdom at the opening of the track colors the rest. The lead crooning between verses feels familiar and fresh all at once. There’s a genuineness in von Kampen’s vocal style that makes you believe her.
The following “Portland” was released in 2018 and I actually fell in love with it then. I was glad to hear it make the record and hope that it gets more recognition. The phrasing on this song is sorely needed in folk music right now. Instead of forcing too many complex lyrics into the song, von Kampen works her magic with some beautifully crafted lines. It rolls off the tongue while evoking visceral images of what it’s like to travel somewhere familiar. It sounds really comforting and the lyrics inhabit a similar sweet, refreshing place.
Both “Try” and “Julia” are really wonderful acoustic folk tracks. I love the way the guitar on both seem to have this energy to them where it brings it to life but doesn’t take it over. The quality on the vocal for both is really special and make it so that it’s hard to skip any tracks here. The lilting accents on “Julia” remind me of “I dreamed a dream” in Les Miserables and that’s an intentionally high compliment. It’s really a beautiful track.
“Wildwood Flower” is a traditional style song and perfectly in my wheelhouse. This is exactly what I look for when I’m listening to folk singer songwriters. It tells a story with precision and articulate sincerity. When the fiddle enters the track, I feel like I’m transported back about 100 years. It’s a timeless quality that I adore.
The title track “Old Country” begins to give a hint of the Greenwich Village folk music of the 60s in America. I can’t quite explain what it is about the chord progression, but it’s the most “Joni Mitchell” style on the entire album. One gets the sense that von Kampen could nestle into this style for a really long time. It suits her vocal and songwriting style perfectly.
If you think I haven’t been complimentary enough, wait until you read what I have to say about the last track. “If you see her say hello” is the closer and definitely the best track on a stellar album. It reminds me of “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan. You might not believe me at first blush, but just listen to it. There hasn’t been a folk track I’ve loved this much in years. Andrea von Kampen is a gifted artist that not only makes thoughtful music, she has the added gift of doing it dripping with authenticity.
We don’t score albums around here, but this one would get a ten out of ten. All five stars. Both thumbs up. It makes me happy every time I listen to it. I can’t wait to hear von Kampen perform live. There’s a purity and sincerity in her performance that must be captivating in a live room. Until then, I’ll wear out the grooves of my copy of Old Country. Look for more at the end of year when we count down the best that 2019 gave us.