Craig Gould – Songs From The Campfire: Album Review

Measured assessments of mental ill-health and its many causes.  The long-awaited debut album from Tamworth folk/Americana songwriter Craig Gould is a work of beauty.

Release Date:  14th April 2023

Label: Self Released

Formats: CD / Digital

Tamworth’s folk/Americana singer/songwriter Craig Gould is a good friend of ours.  We loved his November 2021 single, Captain Of The Seas and we were deeply affected by Craig’s recollection of the life changing events that he endured back in 2016 that permanently altered his outlook on life, sparked the motivation for his involvement with the CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) charity and provided the inspiration for the subject matter of many of the songs he now presents on his long-awaited debut album, Songs From The Campfire.

Our friendship with Craig doesn’t end there, either – in May 2022, he generously agreed to write a contribution to At The Barrier’s Why I Love column and he used that platform to publicly declare his devotion to Ocean Colour Scene, a band he has admired since he first heard their 1996 single, Day We Caught The Train, on a local radio Birmingham radio station.

It’s fitting, then, that the band that Craig’s assembled to deliver this excellent album includes no other than OCS guitarist Dan Sealey who, along with the Birmingham Philharmonic’s Jools Street (violin), Lee Cogswell (bass) and Jenny Colquitt (backing vocals) provide the supplements to Craig’s acoustic guitar, mandolin and percussion that transform his thought-provoking musings into a collection of songs that strike home as a work of real beauty.

Craig’s songwriting skills continue to attract plaudits from around the music media, and I can only imagine that Songs From The Campfire will launch a further deluge of such plaudits.  His work has drawn favourable comparisons to the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, John Lennon and Bob Dylan.  He’s made a lot of waves on the live circuit too, over the past few years, delivering support slots to such luminaries as The Levellers, Brian Downey (Thin Lizzy), Dave Hemingway (The Beautiful South) and, not least, to his heroes, Ocean Colour Scene.

In order to get Songs From The Campfire off the ground, Craig pursued a Crowdfunding initiative and, 80+ donors later, he’s able to present his finished product to the waiting world.  As has been the case for each of his four previous singles – all included here – any profits he makes from Songs From The Campfire will go to CALM; a truly admirable gesture that makes an investment in this excellent album even more worthwhile.

Opening track, The Campfire Song serves notice of exactly what we’re in for.  A relaxing intro of acoustic guitars and mandolin provide the prelude to the first taste of Craig’s wonderfully sincere and reassuring voice and, when the bass and drums kick in at the song’s midpoint, the vivid picture of an evening in the Arizona Desert – with love from Tamworth – is complete.

Current single, Out Of The Woods, has been around since mid-February, and it’s a real album highlight.  Described as “A remarkable folk tale of heartbreak and redemption, narrating the turmoil that mental health illness can cause, and demonstrating the hope and joy that can come with recovery,” it’s a jolly tune that urges the listener to concentrate on the positive elements of the story whilst acknowledging the tragedies.  Jools’s fiddle is wonderful and Jenny adds some delicious backing vocals as – not for the last time – Craig manages to work a touch of Bowie-like anguish into his voice.

A gentle, relaxed, interlude is provided by Dreamers, a tasty acoustic number with some fine electric guitar fills and interesting backing vocals, before Craig uses the gentle country stomper, Ain’t No Place To Hide, as a vehicle to resume his exploration of the causes of stress-induced mental health illness.  The climate crisis, corporate greed and governmental incompetence are among the many features of modern life to get a mention, and lyrical quotes like: “Propaganda tints your TV screens, develops a controlled society” and “John and Paul said ‘Love is all you need.’ What good is love if you’re not free” help to emphasise the complexity and permanency of the impact of society upon mental health.  A pleasant tune that gives no clues to the darkness of the song’s lyrics Ain’t No Place To Hide hit the Number 2 spot in the iTunes UK Country Chart when it was released as single in 2021.

Craig once again slips into a Bowie persona for the wistful, folky, I Am The Earth, particularly as the song reaches its “Say you’ll stay with me – I am the Earth, and the Earth is me” climax, before Craig sneaks out a little of his black humour for Burned, another of the album’s singles and another song that made a noticeable dint in the iTunes Country Chart.  Burned is a rip-roaring country-flavoured number that tells the story of a raucous Friday night during which beers, Campari and red wine (and probably more) are all consumed in copious volumes, before a relationship and, quite possibly, the imbiber’s life, all follow the mixed drinks down the hatch, in a story told to a demure backing of strummed guitars and a solid, resolute, bassline.

Gentle acoustic guitars and some magical, discrete, fiddling take the lead for the wistful Old Brown Boots, a song that tells an old man’s tale as he reaches the end of his existence, and those that have compared Craig to Cat Stevens see their point made in the quiet, pleasant, Holding On.  Craig accompanies himself with acoustic guitar and a simple, repetitive, drumbeat, whilst weepy electric guitar licks add to the confused insecurity of Craig’s lyrics.

We loved the November 2021 single, Captain Of The Seas, when the song first came to our attention, and we love it now.  Back then, we said: “Captain of the Seas is a deeply affecting and moving song” and time has faded none of those emotions.  Violin and slow, thudding, bass are the perfect accompaniment to the soul-searching of the lyrics and I’m staggered by the poignancy in lines like “Killed by the storm, forever set free – that’s the lie told to families,” as Craig considers the myth that death is a release for those suffering mental anguish.

And, as on all of the very best albums, Craig has saved the best (or, at least what I consider to be the best..) until last.  There’s enough food for thought on Songs From The Campfire to fill a Desperate Dan-sized dish and closing track, Story of Life, scoops on another hefty serving.  Using examples that will surely resonate with a great number of the listeners to this album, Craig considers his life’s achievements and the things he considers to have been his failings, then tries to make sense of it all by pulling out the lessons he’s learned.  There’s a hope that, by sharing those lessons, he can help future generations to avoid the pitfalls he’s suffered, before he acknowledges that life doesn’t work like that – everybody has to fail for themselves.  It’s an excellent song to close an excellent album; Songs From The Campfire is a work of great beauty, and it deserves to be heard.

And, the other good news is that Craig is preparing to take Songs From The Campfire out on the road in the coming weeks. Details of the shows he has planned can be found here.

Listen to Out of the Woods – the current single from the album – here:

Craig Gould online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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