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Raw Talent Needs Time on Range

August 17, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Stacy Dean Campbell could add needed substance to the contemporary country-music scene if he succeeds in cooking up a high-profile career for himself with the tradition-leaning approaches that flavor his two albums.

But as a live performer, Campbell definitely is not soup yet. In his brief show Tuesday night at the Cowboy Boogie, the young Southwesterner showed that he has the right ingredients when it comes to taste and raw talent. But his wan, reticent stage bearing left him unable to stir a pure, unforced voice and a sturdy selection of songs into something listeners will want to slurp down by the bowlful.

Campbell, 27, grew up in New Mexico and was close to taking a job as a sheriff's deputy in Oklahoma when he did a career zigzag and decided to be a musician instead. That may be just as well: At his best, Campbell can sing like an honorary Everly Brother, a skill that would be wasted in a cop. Also, it's hard to imagine this slightly built, unprepossessing fellow getting in the face of bad guys out on the beat.

With shoulders hunched and head tilted downward, he often resembled a schoolboy called to the head of the class to recite a poem he hadn't properly memorized.

That reticence partly undermined a singer who in many ways shapes up as somebody who might follow Rodney Crowell down the diamond-and-dirt strewn path--a performer who is comfortable with the '50s and early '60s rock 'n' roll vocal traditions of the Everlys and Roy Orbison, while complementing those sweet sounds with the hard-driving grit or easily swinging mastery of traditional country.

Campbell had no problem finding the right notes on songs like "Midnight Angel," a twangy shuffle about a guy wandering the streets in search of a romantic respite, or "Mind Over Matter," one of those deep-denial country songs in which a guy gets crushed in love but tries to act as if everything's OK: "I don't mind, she don't matter." But there was none of the performing alchemy that can turn the right notes into a vivid embodiment of a scene from a life.

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On upbeat numbers like the twangy, affirmative uptempo love song, "Rosalee," from his 1992 debut album "Lonesome Wins Again," Campbell didn't project the ebullience needed to bring a song fully to life. Listening to him take an accurate but colorless run through "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," the signature song of a natural, self-dramatizing ham, Freddy Fender, made it clear how far Campbell has to go.

On the other hand, there was "I Can Dream." Campbell played this ace card (culled from his new album, "Hurt City") early in his 43-minute set, and it was in itself worth the trip and the ticket price. A crestfallen yet soaring ballad in the grand Orbison tradition, "I Can Dream" was the moment in which Campbell, who wrote the tune with the solid Nashville songsmith, Jamie O'Hara, made it clear how far a rich voice and a haunting song can go, never mind the showmanship. As he repeated the song's aching and searching refrain, "I can dream, can't I? Can't I? " Campbell scaled heights of low feeling with heart-piercing, ear-thrilling effect.

Although Campbell was hardly the fiery sort, the show also found a spark when he and his six-man band rocked a bit. "Honey I Do," which Campbell wrote with Al Anderson, the NRBQ guitarist turned Nashville songsmith, chugged and bounced brightly.

Crowell's rockabilly powered "Ain't Living Long Like This" served as the encore, with pianist Joey Lunsford plinking and banging Jerry Lee Lewis lines as steel guitarist Bucky Byam and guitarist Joe McMahan let him in on their tag-team soloing.

Campbell should have let the band keep cooking on that one, but he made an early exit and the song ended hastily thereafter. It was one more instance of his lack of a sure knack for the stage. If he can cultivate that performer's instinct, Campbell has the taste, talent and historical knowledge of what's good in country music to take care of the rest.

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