Shawn Camp's latest recording featured his songwriting skills presented within a live acoustic and bluegrass context. On Fireball Camp's material is framed with electric honkytonk flare. Even though the milieu may be different, the overall impression remains the same – Camp is a masterful songwriter and powerful singer.
Most of the songs on Fireball are collaborations. Billy Burnette co-wrote three songs, Mark Sanders worked on four, and John Scott Sherrill helped on three others. Musicians on Fireball include Chad Cromwell, Tommy Harden, Pat McLaughlin, and Danny Malone on drums, Kevin Grantt and Spadey Brannan on electric bass, Dave Roe on upright bass, Bobby Wood and Jim Brown on keyboards, Micky Raphael on harmonica, Dug Dugmore and Al Perkins on dobro, Bily Burnette and John Scott Sherrill on acoustic guitars, and Scott Vestal on banjo. Camp plays acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and sings all the lead vocals.
From the opening electric twang Fireball burns with rockabilly passion. But along with the energy Camp brings wit and intelligence that rivals first-tier modern country songwriters such as Radney Foster or John Jennings. Camp is so well versed in all the country conventions and clichés that he can use them without becoming ensnared by them. Take "Love Crazy" where he creates a rip-roaring road song by combining the images of riding around in a truck with references to late night partying in San Antonio and New Orleans. His verses are interspersed with hot solos from Russ Pahl on lap steel and Bob Britt on electric guitar. Rather than telling stories most of Camps' songs paint a picture. His lyrics are deceptively simple, honed down to just enough to define the scene. He lets the music do the rest.
Recorded at six different studios, each with a different engineer and co-producer, Fireball still manages to have a cohesive overall sound. Camp's rockabilly sensibility requires that guitars twang, but due to modern recording techniques the rest of the audio palette has equal panache. On cuts like "Beagle Hound" (which begins with the sound of Jimmy Martin's beagles) Camp uses a standup bass rather than an electric bass so the sound has a wonderfully big acoustic bass thump on the bottom. Due to the clever mixing even the acoustic instruments in the recording retain their sonic individuality and timbre.
Most contemporary country is merely pop rock with fiddles and pedal steels. If more modern country albums were like Fireball the world would be a much more musically interesting place.