Craig Campbell fans can sample his still-being-recorded 2013 album via a five-song EP, Outta My Head, released Dec. 4. The title cut of the sampler continues to gain traction on Billboard‘s country airplay chart.
Campbell, who previously worked in Tracy Byrd and Luke Bryan ‘s road bands, made his bow as a solo artist in 2010 with “Family Man,” followed by a self-titled album in 2011. “Family Man” peaked at No. 14, while its successors — “Fish” and “When I Get It” — both reached the Top 40.
Campbell says he’s learned a few things about hit records that he’s hoping to apply to his sophomore album.
“Being seated behind the curtain with radio,” he observes, referring to his learning more about the musical preferences of radio programmers, “there were certain things I saw — common denominators, if you will — that were really kicking butt.
“So I made some adjustments from the first album to this one. I got a completely different rhythm section, a new drummer, new bass player and some different instrumentation that would give it a little freshness in comparison to the first album.”
He also enlisted engineer Matt Rovey to co-produce with his original studio mentor, Keith Stegall.
Campbell continues to shine as a songwriter. Two of the songs on the EP are his own co-writes: “That’s Why God Made a Front Porch” (with Lee Thomas Miller) and “When She Grows Up” (with Alex Dooley and Arlos Smith).
“I’d like to think the rest of the album will have more of my songs than not,” he muses.
Like Bryan and the much-awarded songwriters Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, Campbell, who hails from Lyons, Ga., is in the thick of what might be called the “Georgia Renaissance” musical scene — which leans more toward the festive than the pensive aspects of life.
Indeed, Davidson and Hayslip are represented on Campbell’s new EP with the decidedly frisky “Keep Them Kisses Comin’.”
So does Campbell ever fear his identity may get subsumed into that goodtime Georgia sound?
“There’s certain subject matter and certain lines and key words in a song that I try to stay away from that may or may not have been mentioned in some of the Peach Pickers’ songs,” he says diplomatically. (Davidson, Akins and Hayslip style themselves as “the Peach Pickers.”)
“The songs that I record are songs that I have no problem singing for the rest of my life,” Campbell continues. “So if it happens to be a Dallas Davidson or a Ben Hayslip song, it’s a song that’s earned a spot on my album, whether it has a specific sound from Georgia or whatnot. I’m not going to get into a race with everybody else that’s singing about the same thing.”
One would have thought that Campbell’s years of singing demos for other songwriters would have sharpened his own awareness of what is and isn’t hit material.
“Not really,” he says with a laugh, “because I didn’t get to [demo] very many hits. Ninety-eight percent of the songs I sang were terrible.”
By the end of this year, Campbell estimates he will have done 130 to 150 shows, including a half-dozen or so each as the opening act for Bryan and for Alan Jackson .
He also opened two shows for Martina McBride at a festival in Gstaad, Switzerland, in September. Next year’s touring schedule, he says, will depend largely on how well the new songs fare at radio.
Campbell still has vivid memories of the first time he heard his own record on the radio.
“We were driving down I-24, heading back to Nashville,” he recalls, “me and my radio rep, and we had lost signal with the Atlanta station and had switched over to the Chattanooga station. It was maybe five minutes later when ‘Family Man’ came on. It was a glorious moment.”