A quick glance at the songs on Kate Campbell's Wandering Strange would seem to indicate that this is a gospel album. "Now Is the Day of Salvation"? "The King's Business"? Indeed it is. But where contemporary religious music is so often cloying, trite and secondary to the message that's trying to be delivered, Campbell's new album is sweetly old-fashioned, while maintaining a nice artistic edge. And it wouldn't be the first time gospel music by a "secular" artist seemed so true and pure. Think Emmylou Harris on Angel Band or Gillian Welch's material on her last two albums.
Kate Campbell's Wandering Strange calls to mind both Harris and Welch. Her warmly husky vocals are reminiscent of Harris, while the material is wonderfully dark, glimmering with the hope of redemption -- the unique territory of Welch. Many of the songs on Wandering Strange are songs from old hymnals, particularly the Baptist hymnals of Campbell's childhood. "There is a Fountain," a 1771 hymn by William Cowper is especially rousing with the addition of banjo and mandolin, and "Come Thou Fount," from the same era, is poetry from an older time. The tunes Campbell penned for the album beckon as well. With a church organ in the background and the slow Alabama drawl of her vocals, Campbell un-self-consciously delivers lines like "it didn't look deadly/didn't look venomous/wrapped around that tree so lovely and sensuous."