CD Reviews for 06/23/06 – Gary Bennett, Mike Stinson, Shawn Camp

Compact Capsules for 06/23/06
by Dan Ferguson

Gary Bennett
Human Condition
Landslide Records LDCD-1032

It’s hard not to think of BR549 when I hear the name Gary Bennett. It’s also hard not to compare what he’s doing these days as a solo artist versus his BR days of the past, not to mention current sans-Bennett BR549 material. For the uninformed, Bennett was a vital cog in the heyday of BR549. A founding member of the modern hillbilly band, Bennett shared lead singer and songwriting chores with co-founder Chuck Mead. With the release Human Condition, Bennett steps out on his own for the first time. Cutting right to the chase, as far as debut recordings are concerned, Bennett has himself a pretty good one. The twangier of the lead singers in BR549, Bennett applies that rural bend in his voice to a set of songs which while they tend towards the easy listening side of the country music equation, are at the same time all quite listenable. Produced by R.S. Feld (Sonny Landreth, Webb Wilder) and featuring such stalwarts on the supporting end as pedal steel legend Lloyd Green, ace guitarist Kenny Vaughan and a guest spot by Marty Stuart, Bennett originals dominate Human Condition. Burnt out by the incessant touring and the business of music in general, Bennett left BR549 in 2002. The breather was instrumental in getting the juices flowing again and to begin writing songs. A series of personal tragedies in 2004 where he lost two close friends provided even more incentive where the act of writing songs worked as a catharsis in moving beyond those unfortunate events. No doubt it plays into an album a little on the soft side that features a solid collection of songs. Bennett does give it a workout on a few of the numbers, the leadoff track “Human Condition” with its locomotive back beat, “Better Than This” co-written with Todd Snider and featuring Wilder contributing circa-Marty Robbins “Don’t Worry” fuzz-tone bass guitar, the old-style hillbilly swing of “That’s What I’m Here For”, and the fury of “American Dream” which takes things out with a wall of sound. (Landslide Records, P.O. Box 20387, Atlanta, GA 30325, or

Mike Stinson
Last Fool At the Bar
Boronda Records BR0001

Moving West to the Left Coast, we have the sophomore recording from Los Angeles-based artist Mike Stinson. Stinson garnered some serious attention back in 2002 thanks to his debut album called Jack Of All Heartaches (Big Ol’ Records). Credit music industry organ/barometer Billboard magazine with generating some big time interest in the Californian profiling him as part of a feature from that same year on the underground country scene in L.A. Writer Chris Morris went as far as to call him “a formidable songsmith” and “leading L.A. light of the moment.” The fact that Stinson saw a song of his from that debut album be covered by Dwight Yoakam (“Late Great Golden State” found on Yoakam’s Population Me album) and counts among his admirers none other than the Red-Headed Stranger himself, Willie Nelson, were just a couple of more feathers in his cap, or shall we say Stetson. Then again, a glance at photos of Stinson adorning both his debut recording and latest release and the look is definitely not the cowboy hat side of country. Rather, he opts for a Western-leaning look as scruffy as his parched voice. Not unlike Jack of All Heartaches, Stinson, who Los Angeles Magazine named as its Country & Western Artist of the Year in 2004, packs a ton of honky tonk hurt into the songs occupying the newly released Last Fool At the Bar. Right out of the gates on the title track which is diced by plenty of pungent twang guitar reminiscent of classic Haggard and courtesy of scene vet Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice), Stinson makes a B-line to Loserville. It tells the story of a typical night in the life of a drummer where yet again, the only things standing at the end of a long night’s gig in a smoky bar is the protagonist/drummer, just barely, and his drum kit. Inspired by a real life experience? It just may be considering Stinson has been tooling around the L.A. rock and country scene for awhile earning his stripes as a drummer. The segueing tune, “Six Pack of Lonely”, is fast-moving barley pops bliss chock full of crafty honky tonk word play. Kicking off with a guitar intro straight out of “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”, “Can’t Go Out Anymore” is a classic tale of love gone bad and the cheatin’ side of life where the icing on the cake is making the “honky tonk headlines”. “Another Day Without You” is a 100-proof breakup song where you can’t help but feel for the poor fool whose life in unraveling in the wake of his gal leaving him. Four songs in and you’re probably getting the idea that Last Fool At the Bar is an album that means business, in the purest kind of honky tonk way. Think the most hurtin’ side of C&W cats like Jones and the aforementioned Haggard and it’s a pretty good barometer for where Stinson is coming from on Last Fool At the Bar. A dozen songs in all, Mike Stinson packs a punch on this latest. Highly recommended. (For information on Mike Stinson and Last Fool At the Bar, check out either the Boronda Records web site at or Mike’s own site at

Shawn Camp
Skeeterbit Records 5917132

Gotta confess that as far as his own recordings over the years are concerned, I’ve been remiss when it came to Nashville-based singer/songwriter Shawn Camp. His name is familiar to these ears only because of seeing it in the credits to countless mainstream Nashville albums. Whereas Camp has been making records since the early 1990s to varying degrees of success, his greatest notoriety has come thanks to his work as a supporting musician with artists as varied as the Osborne Brothers who gave him his first start, John Prine, Garth Brooks, Guy Clark, and Nanci Griffith. On the songwriting side, high profile types like Tracy Byrd, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, John Anderson and Brooks have all covered songs he has written or co-written. Camp’s latest solo release called Fire Ball is appropriately titled considering the number of high octane country tunes that come crashing out of the speakers. His first studio release since 2001, Fire Ball is a predominantly revved-up collection of catchy tunes that head in directions both bluegrass and big twang, at times even colliding in glorious fashion in the same tune. Camp ignites the proceedings with the title track and never looks back while barely making time to catch his breath over the subsequent dozen tracks. Highlights include the acoustic swing time of “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me”, the total tonk of “The Way It Is” and “Drank”, and “Beagle Hound” featuring cameo barking and howling from the Canine Corp of the late King of Bluegrass, Jimmy Martin. While by no means essential, Fire Ball sure is a lot of fun in a hell raisin’ kind of way. (Skeeterbit Records, 1313 16th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212, or

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)