Royce Campbell has had an impressive career with his guitar. He has toured the world and played with many of very best guitarists in jazz. He had a nineteen year gig as a touring guitarist with Henry Mancini which ended when Mr. Mancini passed away in 1994. He has since 1990 released fourteen CDs, six of which have made it to the national airplay charts.
On Gypsy Soul, Royce Campbell's 2006 release on Moon Cycle Records, he brings his considerable talent to the formidable task of capturing the musical soul of a shunned and very private people. The Gypsy sound is easy enough to imitate and a person of Royce Campbell’s abilities could easily write a fake book of Gypsy riffs but that is not what he has done. While some of the songs seem to be familiar material played with a "Gypsy filter," Mr. Campbell is genuinely searching for the authentic. He wants the music of caravan much more than that of the carnival.
The ten compositions on Gypsy Soul are originals. All of the songs are very passable for the genre and as individual pieces of music some are interesting and all enjoyable. The first three songs seem to be almost a demonstration of what is expected of a person playing the music that Django made so widely loved. But they do seem exercises and under the guitar, the drums and the bass seem almost a metronome. Gypsy Soul is at least ninety percent a guitar showcase and not a CD by a Gypsy jazz band.
However, with the fourth song on the CD "Slow Down, Low Down," Royce has a composition that is more introspective, a little sad, and truer to the culture who’s soul he is trying to capture. Here I think he has come very close to touching that soul. My only complaint is that the song is a little long for the slightly morbid feeling. Minor problem only.
The next three songs, "The Happy Nomad," "Minor Episode," and "Gypsy Romance" are again virtuoso guitar playing in the genre. Royce varies the pace, demonstrates the many techniques of making a guitar sing the old language and the bass and drums have a little more involvement.
However, on "Bygones" he has created over five minutes with the actual spirit and at least to my ears authentic soul of the Romani. This song sounds so real you will want to play it again and again. Here the composer seems to be writing for himself and other insiders; there is something in the song that seems more culturally authentic then anything else on the CD. The tenor of the song is insolent, like the writer has taken off his entertaining public face and at this point doesn’t care to please anyone but himself. Here is where Royce is embraced by Gypsy Soul and gets it all perfect.
The fact that he has achieved this in one composition shows the strength of this project. "Bygones" makes the seven songs before it a musical journey. Royce Campbell has achieved what he set out to do, and that makes the whole album very enjoyable.