When under-the-radar, folk and pop artist Brooke Campbell took her corner of the modern art deco 92YTribeca Café to perform a free show, I didn’t know what to expect. Listening to a few of her tracks online didn’t prepare enough for the mesmerizing performance I later heard in person.
Settled with a coffee at my own high chair corner beside glass windows overlooking Hudson street, I was mere feet from the performer and instantly taken by both what I saw and heard. Performing with only a dark mahogany varnished guitar accompanying her soothing vocals, Campbell’s voice was nearly bare but beautiful. The singer opened her set to an audience of barely ten with a few soft words and soulful music and lyrics that had me moments from slipping into a dream and focused on the reality outside my window.
Hailing from the small coastal town of Whiteville, North Carolina, Campbell’s soft, southern drawl and clear folk music influences peeked out from below her voice. Her folksy yet jazzy and soulful pieces were laced with melancholy lyrics and breathless vocals reciting the trials of life and love. More than once, her crooning made me turn to look at the nighttime view outside and reflect on my own trials as the day looped to her soundtrack.
That soundtrack included tracks like “Sugar Spoon,” “Why,” and “Please Go,” off of her second, most recent release, Sugar Spoon, songs from her first album, Better, and covers of a few unknown folk songs. (Here’s a listen- Stretched Towards You)
One was based on a poem about Civil War soldiers returning to the women who had been doing their jobs in the mens’ absence. Mentioning that she liked singing this especially because her brother had just safely returned from the war, Cambell allowed me to see a genuine personality to match her almost vulnerable voice.
With a sound similar to pre-pop Jewel and Ingrid Michaelson’s, Campbell voice was easily likable and her set pleasing to the ear. My only gripe might be that her music lacked variety. Theresa Roca related to this.
“Although Campbell clearly possesses the qualities of passion and talent, when on stage, she sings in the same quiet tone, lacking energy.” Roca said.
Campbell’s songs differed mainly in range. Some, she sang in a consistently mellow tone. On others, she reached for especially high notes that sounded a depth of feeling from more than her diaphragm. It was easily visible that these songs were being delivered from the heart from the way Campbell closed her eyes in intense focus on her vocals and guitar strumming. Similarly critically acclaimed by bloggers like The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and playing a constantly changing calendar of live shows at similar venues, Campbell did her reputation and her music justice.
Those as captivated as I was by this promising artist could purchase either of her albums for $10 at the cafe. Diners I bumped into by the milk and sugar generously shared their positive critiques and I was positive Campbell had made such an impression that these might sell quick. It was a short and sweet performance for nothing but a coffee.
A sentimental and cautious musician with a well of emotion seeping through her words and vocal chords just like the lyrics to “Sugar Spoon” suggests; “Never felt more happy, or in control/ bouncing off the wall and into a dark hole,” Brooke Cambell is definitely an artist with great potential. With a little word of mouth, I think it’s only a matter of time until this artist gets a taste of her sugar spoon.