By Roger Sharman
Just over twelve months ago. I was lucky enough to go and see Shooter Jennings at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver, Colorado. Not only that, I got to meet Ted and have a brief chat with him and in that short conversation it struck me what an incredible humble, intelligent and caring guy that Ted is. TRK is also something of a musical genius, On this album alone he plays on at least different instruments; bass, acoustic guitar, dobro, banjo, trumpet, trombone, keyboards and percussion – and I believe he can play more – not only that, he’s a very accomplished producer as you can hear on ‘Down in the Den’.
Ted has performed with the likes of Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, Whitey Morgan, Alice Wallace, Sam Morrow, and he appeared on Tanya Tucker’s Grammy-winning album ‘While I’m Living’ to name but a few. In musical terms TRK is a superhero, and he has the image to go with it. In my opinion, he’s the King of Cool. ‘Down in the Den’ is Ted’s twelfth studio album and has a more soulful sound and a New Orleans influence than his previous work – he got out his dad’s old Conn trumpet for this album, of which he recently said:
“It was my Dad’s trumpet that we both played in our high school and college years. I also play an old valve trombone that was given to me by one of my Dad’s old jazz-loving friends. It was apparently owned by a trombone player for KC and the Sunshine Band and the backstage pass is still in the case.”
Of the record itself Ted goes on to say:
“Originally this was going to be a real Memphis Southern soul record,” Kamp added. “Some of the first songs I wrote for it were ‘Word for Word’ and ‘Every Little Thing You Need’ and I even considered naming the record “Ted in Memphis”. Then I realized I wanted it to be a more eclectic record so I could include some more of the sensitive singer-songwriter moments like, ‘Take My Songs With You’ and ‘Stick With Me’. I definitely wanted to lean towards soul and gospel still with songs like ‘Hold On’ and ‘Saint Severin’.”
So, to the album itself, it’s a collection of fourteen diverse tracks, ranging from Country to Rock, Blues to Gospel and with more than a hint of Soul thrown in to boot. The result of that is an LP with something on that everyone will like, even if they don’t like it all. It was recorded in the Den Studio, Ted’s home studio in Los Angeles and has been released on PoMo records.
It kicks off with ‘Home Sweet Hollywood’, which as the name suggests, pays homage to the Californian hotspot of actors, musicians and creative types, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. Vocal duties are shared with Shooter.
‘Have Some Faith’ is a stripped back to the bones track, in fact it’s almost an acoustic track, with Matt Szlechetka making a guest appearance on Guitar. In my opinion it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album, but have no fear as it’s followed up with a stormer.
‘Waste a Little Time’ is an interesting number. It features the trombone and trumpet playing of Ted – it’s kind of a cross between the Cajun sound of New Orleans and a Country song so it’s pretty eclectic, but it works really well.
“Stick With Me” is one of the first songs on any of his albums where Kamp is using the fingerpicking guitar technique. It’s a divine, laid-back Country track. The song was co-written with Dylan Altman. TRK has been co-writing more lately than at any stage previously and he explains why that is:
“I am co-writing more now than I used to. I had a publishing deal in Nashville for 4 years and really liked co-writing. I work a lot playing in the Shooter Jennings Band and with other people and I spend a lot of time producing records for other people, so I don’t often have time to write on my own. I’m also a very social and collaborative person. Creating a song with someone based on our conversation and common experience has been really wonderful and valuable for me.”
‘Hold On’ is a song of hope in times to trouble. Ted’s voice, whilst I’m sure he’ll agree is not the strongest, is full of angst and raw emotion and certainly not short on harmony. It’s a country infused rock at its finest. Gordy Quist, of the magical Band of Heathens, guest duets on this beauty.
There’s a strong New Orleans feel to ‘Hobo Nickel’ with Dixieland trumpet & trombone being supplied in spectacular fashion by Dave Richards.
‘Rainy Day Valentine’ once again showcases the raw emotion in his voice in this stripped back to the bare bones’ solo acoustic bass track. Something like this can only be pulled off by a man who’s on top of his game and totally at ease in his surroundings.
At this point in time I think its pertinent to acknowledge that TRK manages to maintain a degree of quirkiness in much that he does and manages to make it feel like he’s not taking himself too seriously whilst being a seriously talented man, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s very much a 70’s vibe to much of this record, I think that’s quite apparent just by looking at the Album cover – ‘The Good Part’ is a fine example of this.
‘Word for Word’ sees Ted share vocals with the extremely talented Sarah Gayle Meech. It’s a soulful, bluesy number with brass once again, both trombone and trumpet as well as bass being supplied by Ted.
‘My Turn to Cry’ picks up the pace with a real ‘Honky Tonk’ feel to it. There’s some incredible Pedal Steel on this track supplied by Dave Berzanski.
‘Only Son’ sees a drop in pace, but not in quality, although it’s probably my least favourite track on the album. I’m really unable to give a reason why, it’s just one of those little personal preferences.
‘Every Little Thing’ starts out with just bass and vocals, like ‘Rainy Day Valentine’ but soon they’re joined by drums, brass and organ giving it really quite a soulful, funky feel, not to mention the jazz like guitar solo. This is a little gem of a track.
Next up, ‘Saint Severin’ continues in a similar vein, Kamp saying of it, “I definitely wanted to lean towards soul and gospel still with songs like ‘Hold On’ and ‘Saint Severin’.”
Rounding it all off very nicely is ‘Take My Song With You’. This track was co-written with Kirsten Proffitt who also duets with Kamp on it. “I really like this song as a sentimental closer to the record,” said Kamp. “It kind of says thanks for listening, I hope this music can provide a little comfort and help you through some hard or lonely times.”
Ted Russell Kamp, in short has put out a very classy record. The musicianship is excellent, the songs are good, the production is spot on in that it’s pretty under-stated, but that really works for this record. Fourteen tracks give great value for money and are quite a rarity in this day and age. In short, this is a very good record that will have wide appeal. Get on it, you’ll like it.
‘Down in the Den’ is out now and available via the usual outlets.