The first time a Kate Campbell CD landed in my inbox, in 2001, it stayed there until a convincing publicist called weeks later to follow up. Leaving the office I grabbed the hymns-plus-original-songs CD, Wandering Strange, and played it in my car.
The moving lyrics and Kate’s mellow honest voice had me driving in circles on the way home to hear more.
Shortly thereafter I met Kate on the steps of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church — where a 1963 bombing by white supremacist terrorists killed four precious black girls and inspired one of the songs on that earlier album. After we visited the Civil Rights Institute across the street I interviewed Kate for a feature story.
Since then I have enjoyed Kate’s music through recordings and in concerts, including her singing at the 35th anniversary celebration of our publication a few years ago. Now when a new CD of hers arrives it quickly makes its way into my ears and heart.
Damn Sure Blue (available at katecampbell.com) is Kate’s thoughtful musical response to the sad reality of resurfacing and politically emboldened white nationalism that has many of us wondering what has happened to the dream of living in racial harmony and equality.
Most troubling, for many of us, is how fear still causes otherwise goodhearted people —many who have professed Jesus as Lord — to demonize groups of people and act so unloving toward them. As Kate puts it in the title song, “…I can’t see why good people do such hateful things, but they damn sure do.”
Expressing disappointment that the dream echoed by Martin Luther King Jr. decades ago — based on the example and teachings of Jesus two millennia ago — has experienced a setback, Kate in the CD’s second song, “Change Should’ve Come By Now,” laments: “I never thought I’d have to write another freedom song; I never ever thought that it was gonna take so long.”
This CD contains five of Kate’s original songs and a couple where she turns to Johnny Cash for inspiration — including his justice ballad about Native American/military hero Ira Hayes.
Also, with the help of some great musicians like Will Kimbrough who appear throughout the CD, Kate blasts out the old Louvin Brothers song of eternal expectations, “The Great Atomic Power.”
This new CD, however, is rooted in Kate’s melodious righteous anger over remaining if not resurgent injustice and inequality. Yet her music expresses a loss of patience, but not hope.
“I’m not bitter, I just mad,” she sings as the opening line of the title song. “I’m not broken; but you know I’m sad.”
Yet she turns to self-examination in asking: “So what about me? I love to talk, but do I dare walk the walk; And look myself in the eye; Or turn away and pass on by.”
Much of the fear-driven racial insensitivity and ethnic-based hostility in America today is advanced within and by an evangelical church culture — something this singing/songwriting preacher’s kid surely knows. Hence the disappointment and sadness many of us share.
“Where’s the light to us guide us through? Well its not there, and I’m damn sure blue.”
In “Long Slow Train,” she confesses: “Jesus said, ye are the light; I just pray that he was right.”
Kate doesn’t leave her listeners in the dark.
In “This And My Heart Beside,” she prayerfully asks, “Rock of Ages, help me please, shine a little light.”
Order is important. Kate’s begins the CD with the honest confession of being “damn sure blue” about the social climate in America today. Yet she ends with a blessing of hope.
“Peace, perfect peace,” is a moving benediction mined from an old album by banjo-playing Grand Ole Opry star David “Stringbean” Akeman who was tragically murdered along with his wife in 1973.
Damn Sure Blue allows for expressing our frustrations and disappointments that come from social and spiritual failures — but reminds us to not give up hope or abdicate our rightful places in the journey.
“It’s a long slow train we’re on; Made of blood and bone; Sometimes it feels like we’ll never make it home; But we’re still moving on.”
Yes, it is, Kate. And, yes, we are.