'The Knife' Review by Ian McHugh
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"It has been three long years since Simon Campbell’s last album. In 2011’s Thirty Six he focussed on the kind of electric blues rock that retains massive popularity among blues fans, and did it well enough to garner himself a British Blues Award nomination for male vocalist. He’s back now, but in a radically different guise with a new record entitled The Knife.
Gone, for the most part, are the loud electric guitars and modernist approach, in favour of a mainly acoustic sound that embraces a more natural, organic sound. The music is harder to define too, falling into that wide chasm commonly called roots, with influences from country, folk and world music in the mix along with the blues. This is a big change, and somewhat of a risk for a musician who has achieved success with his previous work, he could be about to alienate a huge group of people, or he could be on the edge of even greater success. Either way the bravery should be applauded.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of performance, or of the songwriting. There are some great tunes here, rich ballads that would make the likes of Johnny Cash proud, dark tales and light, covering the spectrum of love to murder. The title track and the one that follows it, Affairs of the Heart, are bona fide classics, sounding like they’ve been around forever, even if I’ve not heard them before, as if they are part of my musical DNA.
The entire disc is delivered in an understated, subtle manner that has no need for bombast or flash to attract attention. There is no showing off, no outward sense of trying hard, no in your face delivery, just a song given to the listener in a completely direct manner, no hiding. The music wrapped around the tunes is layered and atmospheric, with textural elements that are cinematic in their application. You get the feeling that a lot is being held back and it makes it all the more powerful that the meaning, and there performance isn’t coming at you like a handful of bricks.
Simon has achieved something great here, an album that stands on it’s own, packed with greatness, and that is completely unlike anything I’ve heard from him in the past. If it does drive away some of the people who wanted something like Thirty Six, it’ll be them who miss out. This is a great record."