Jessica Campbell at Ebenezer's Coffeehouse

Singer/songwriter Jessica Campbell performs at Ebenezer's Coffeehouse in DC. Photo: Jessica Campbell, Sara Beth Go!, DIY music

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2013 — It’s hard to imagine a more stripped-down live show than Jessica Campbell’s recent appearance at Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse. By the time she performed, she had already been prominently featured backing up opener Sara Beth Go! The only other performer on the program was Heather Mae – borrowing Campbell’s ukulele – adding her skill set to what became a strict three-woman show. The show itself turned into a pretty obvious spotlight for Campbell, almost out of necessity rather than intention.

DIY or Do It Yourself ethics are a long standing tradition in music, though it’s not always associated with the singer/songwriter, especially on the female side of the genre. Instead, it’s regarded as something involved in the grittier side of music, which is why most people discuss it with regard to punk rock and its various musical sub-genres. The idea behind DIY is an inherent feel of grime and existence among the “great unwashed,” particularly when a given musician or band is on tour.

Jessica Campbell doesn’t quite fit the DIY bill, however. Despite the relative simplicity of her music, she has quite a bit of polish to her performance, suggesting a more carefully produced effort.  To think that way about Campbell, though, is to miss the self-sustaining nature of her live show and her music in general. She and her tour compatriots obviously feel little need to rely on too much outside themselves, and that kind of confidence came off in full force during Campbell’s set at Ebenezer’s.

There’s a lot of give and take when it comes to this kind of performance. As a modern pop singer/songwriter, Jessica Campbell’s recorded material is distinguished by its subtle shadings of expansive sound. From a musical perspective, she doesn’t specifically rely on herself alone, allowing instead for interesting, unusual harmonies to play out as the mood requires.

With her approach to touring though, it’s hard to bring out everything that you might have been expecting if you’d listened to any of her albums. Yet this doesn’t diminish anything she does particularly well, and it allowed opener Sara Beth to fill on back-up vocals and percussion much the same way Jessica Campbell did for her.

Most of Campbell’s set was occupied by her new album The Anchor & the Sail. This collection isn’t a departure from her earlier material. But judging from her performance here, it’s a continuation of her string of well-written pop songs, seasoned with hints of country and folk thrown for good effect. The basic construction of her songs was never lost during her set, and the highlights also remain the same.

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The arrangement of her current tour also allows her voice to take center stage. Her vocal instrument is distinguished by its slight country twang, which clues us in to her southern North Carolina roots. It’s Campbell’s distinctive and clear vocal approach that suggests is a certain kind of independence, viewed through a prism of vulnerability. The over all effect she produces is a sense of weary confidence that drives her songs to their uplifting resolution.

And perhaps that was the point that stood out proudly during her entire show. Everything Jessica Campbell does shouts self-sufficiency, giving her a distinctive presence during her performance at Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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