Bio for “III:
With her third album, roots-pop singer/songwriter Jessica Campbell proves there’s strength in numbers.
Largely produced by Cason Cooley (Ingrid Michaelson, Katie Herzig), III captures Campbell in an adventurous mood, looking to build something new on top of the foundation that’s always anchored her music. She’s still a genre bender, with songs rooted in pop hooks, Americana influences, folk guitars and just the slightest hint of southern twang. She’s still a storyteller, too, armed with autobiographical tunes about life and love in the Bible Belt. Even so, things have changed since her previous album, The Anchor & the Sail, which found the newly-married Campbell reflecting on a lifetime of past loves — including plenty of heartbreak and hard lessons. This time around, she’s taking stock of the sunny present.
From the bright blasts of bass and keyboards that fill III‘s opening track (“Brighter Days”) to the campfire singalong that closes out the album (“My Heart Says Go”), III explores some of the most upbeat material of Campbell’s career. It’s an album by and about a happily married woman in her early 30s. There’s plenty of struggle in these 11 songs, too — despite a catalog of prime-time TV and promo placements (including Crate & Barrel, Delta Airlines, Ugly Betty, Hart of Dixie, Heartland, Melissa & Tye, and Tough Love New Orleans ), a “Best Song” award from the USA Songwriting Competition and support from outlets like USA Today and American Songwriter, Campbell is still very much an independent, hardscrabble artist who runs nearly every aspect of her business — but it’s the sort of struggle that is ultimately uplifting. The sort of struggle that makes every reward seem that much more deserved. III doesn’t focus on the grind of being a cash-strapped musician. Instead, it highlights the thrill of doing what you’re meant to be doing… even if it involves driving 300 miles between shows.
“This is a very much a ‘seize the moment’ album,” she says. “It’s about dreaming… and chasing after those dreams, so you can eventually live them. It’s about being willing to try.”
It’s also about the magic found in everyday things. Take the number three, for example. Campbell is one of three children. She’s been married for three years. This year, she will turn 33 years old. She hired three producers — in addition to Cooley, with whom she has worked in the past, she also tapped Kyle Lee and Nettwerk recording artist Aaron Espe — to work on her third full-length album, the aptly titled III. When asked if the name is a reference to Led Zeppelin’s III, though, she laughs and shakes her head.
“It’s a reference to my own life,” she explains. “You either embrace where you’re at in life, or you put up a facade. I wanted this album to be more poppy and upbeat, but I also didn’t want to hide my age or my wedding ring. I think there’s something compelling about music made from that kind of honest place.”
Campbell knows a thing or two about making music in different places. Since releasing her debut album in 2009, she’s grown her audience significantly by playing more than 100 house shows. She even appeared on the syndicated radio program “Music Business Radio” in May 2013, talking about the unique business of performing in strangers’ living rooms night after night. Those house shows have tended to be quiet, stripped-down gigs, with Campbell usually performing her songs alone.
It’s that identity — the singer/songwriter sitting on a stool in someone’s home, telling stories and strumming the guitar without any outside accompaniment — that anchors III in something honest and familiar. This is Campbell’s poppiest album to date, but every song was written the old-fashioned way: with an acoustic guitar… and, occasionally, one of her friends from the Nashville songwriting community. In other words, Jessica Campbell still sounds like Jessica Campbell, even when she’s turning an old Beatles lyric on its head during the thumping, danceable “Lennon & McCartney Lied” or paying tribute to one of her earliest influences, gospel music, with the soulful “Everlasting Shore.”
The direction may be new, but the building blocks are the same. III is a songwriter’s album, dressed up with some of Campbell’s edgiest arrangements and rawest vocal performances to date. It’s an album about appreciating where you’re at, while still pushing toward a bigger, brighter, better future. It may be her best yet. The third time’s the charm.
Bio for “The Anchor & The Sail”:
Jessica Campbell has garnered critical acclaim, awards, and plum synch placements for the warm candor of her distinctive roots pop. Her stunning new album, The Anchor & The Sail, traces romantic relationships from balmy beginnings to painfully complex ends with bold emotionality.
The Anchor & The Sail was carefully culled from a pool of songs birthed from a flood of creativity. The album refines the whimsical pop of her previous album but also adds elegantly essential acoustic songs reflective of her intimate live shows. Special guest, singer-songwriter Dave Barnes (Grammy-nominated for “God Gave Me You”), is featured on the song “Mississippi.” Throughout, Campbell’s vocals are pristinely expressive, angelic but deeply emotive as she guides us through the peaks and valleys of romance. On the sweetly spare “Gone” she comes to terms with a dead-end relationship singing: You had your reasons and I had my own/Something about you never felt like home/I was afraid that I’d be all alone/My skies are brighter now that you’ve moved on. “This is a song about post-relationship self-discovery and awareness, realizing you are better off moving on,” she says.
The upliftingly tumbling “Time” is about working through the difficulties of a shared life. It gently builds from a sweet plucked banjo pattern to sweeping strings—the lean beauty of the instrumentation reflects the authentic nature of Campbell’s live performance. The taut, new wave hooks on “My Patchwork Heart” are euphoric and charming. “It’s a song about being loved by someone unconditionally,” she says. “I’ve experienced this in the relationship I have with my parents, my husband, and some of my closest friends. They love me for who I am and see me as a beautiful person despite my faults and failures.” Campbell’s vocals flow delicately, rich with winsome vulnerability. She sings: You took the rough around the edges/the tattered and shredded/I don’t know how you did it/I just know when you were through/It all looked brand new
In the midst of writing for the new album, in April 2012 Jessica signed a worldwide co-publishing agreement with Franklin-based The MWS Group, the publishing company owned by acclaimed artist Michael W. Smith. Campbell previously won “Best Song” in the esteemed USA Songwriting Competition. She’s had a self-penned song cut by Gordon Mote, the 2-time Academy of Country Music Awards’ Piano Player of the Year. She has had songs placed in ABC’s Ugly Betty, CW’s Hart of Dixie, CBC’s (Canada) Heartland, CMT’s Melissa & Tye, and VH-1’s Tough Love New Orleans. Her 2011 album Great Escape climbed to the number 5 spot on the iTunes singer-songwriter chart. She’s been profiled in USA Today, American Songwriter magazine, Nashville Scene, and Oklahoma Gazette. Brite Revolution says, “Campbell has the ability to turn the sentence of your day from ellipsis to exclamation point.”
Campbell was born and raised in the one-stoplight town of Catawba, North Carolina, where she grew up singing gospel, country, show tunes, and singing in competitions. Jessica recalls belting the National Anthem at ballparks, rodeos, gyms, football stadiums and anywhere else that would have her. “There weren’t many concert opportunities in my hometown, so I made the most out of what was around,” she says. She attended college and graduate school at Middle Tennessee State University outside of Nashville, while continuing her musical journey—writing songs, recording, performing at Dollywood (Dolly Parton’s theme park), singing song demos, leading music at church, and touring.
The Anchor & The Sail was produced by longtime creative collaborator Cason Cooley (Katie Herzig, Mat Kearney, Matthew Perryman Jones, Sixpence None The Richer, Andrew Peterson). Cooley worked with Campbell on her 2009 debut EP and the follow-up Great Escape LP. “Over the last two years, we’ve both grown immeasurably in our careers and it feels like our hard work is paying off on this album,” Campbell says. The two spent six weeks recording the album in Nashville, meticulously tailoring each song’s production aesthetic.
“All of these songs are reflective of my life, from past experiences of heartbreak to the happy hopeful songs reflecting my joy as a newlywed,” Campbell says pensively. “This project is a step forward for me as I continue to grow as an artist and songwriter.”