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Songs from the stage or the sofa

Kate Campbell sings and spins stories in big venues or small ones

Kate Campbell has cranked out nearly an album a year since 1995, but she insists that she's not prolific.

One might accuse her of false modesty, but her warm Southern drawl sounds so sincere that it's only natural to take everything she says at face value.

'I'll think about things for a long time,' says the Nashville resident, who is touring the West Coast. 'I get a vision for a recording project, and I write songs for that vision. I'm only prolific in the sense that I'm constantly writing observations in my notebook. But what is recorded is all I have for songs. There's nothing extra.'

She has yet to become a household name like Emmylou Harris. But Campbell, 41, has won critical raves and a loyal following with her intelligent lyrics and rich musical arrangements that weave country, folk and R & B traditions.

Two of her albums, 1997's 'Moonpie Dreams' and 1998's 'Visions of Plenty,' picked up nominations for Folk Album of the Year from the Nashville Music Awards. She has made several appearances on National Public Radio and toured the United States, England and Australia.

Campbell performs without a band on her current tour, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Apart from playing in traditional concert venues, she also makes house calls. All you need to host a Campbell show is a big living room and 40 friends willing to buy a ticket.

'It's like an old parlor gig,' Campbell says. 'You don't have to deal with a sound system. I get to tell more stories than I do in theaters. It's a chance to see the fans up close.'

Her new album, 'Monuments,' already has been released in Europe and will be released in this country in May on Campbell's record label, Large River Music. The album is inspired by the carvings of black folk artist William Edmondson (1870-1951).

'Writing about his work led me to think of monuments and buildings,' she says. 'What lasts? What things do we try to memorialize?'

Campbell grew up in Mississippi, the daughter of a Baptist minister. 'Early on, I was exposed to a lot of gospel music,' she says. 'Later, I fell in love with

R & B music and the original Nashville country sound.' She cites Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Al Green and Bobbie Gentry as some of her favorite artists.

Campbell got an early start in music, starting on the ukulele at age 4 and moving on to piano at 7. 'I've played music and written songs since I was a little girl,' she says. 'The music comes naturally to me.'

Storytelling is just as important to her as music. As an English and history student in college, she honed her writing and narrative skills. Her lyrics have drawn comparisons to Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Her songs are literary and contemplative, and easily stand up to the best work of better-known artists such as Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Shawn Colvin.

Lately she's been listening to 'Sea Change,' Beck's mournful new album. 'I love melancholy,' she says. 'Any manifestation of the blues is OK with me.'

Contact Stephen Blair at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .