Moody and emotional without being dreary or sentimental.
The collaboration between Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura and Danny Coughlan (aka Crybaby) began years ago, when the two acts toured together. In 2015, Camera Obscura’s keyboardist Carey Lander died from cancer. That group stopped recording (its future remained uncertain), but eventually Campbell returned to her collaborations with Coughlan. The resulting album Tracyanne & Danny brings together old pop influences, some roots and a classic indie-pop sound in a tight package that’s moody and emotional without being dreary or sentimental.
Single “Alabama” offers tribute to Lander, and it contains the album’s most surprising sounds. Relying on pedal steel, the song pushes deep into country-rock territory. The song stays upbeat and could be confused for happy road-trip music if Campbell’s vocals didn’t so clearly express her feelings. She sings, “Nothing’s going to be as much fun/ ‘Cause I miss you by the nighttime/ I miss you when the daytime’s begun,” longing for her friend and travel companion while providing a warmth to her memories.
“Alabama” stands largely as a Campbell number, and Coughlan gets his own highlight on the melancholy track that follows, “Jacqueline.” Coughlan reaches back to the late ‘50s or early ‘60s for a vocal that would have been at home on top a doo wop line or coming out of a pop crooner. “Jacqueline” captures the textures of an early teenager song perfectly, but Coughlan delivers his loss and heartbreak with mature aplomb. Wherever this album goes, it goes with class.
“It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts” comes from imaginary Phil Spector vaults, but offers enough variance to avoid retread. The two vocalists perform it as a duet, but it touches on girl group sounds as well as doo wop, plus Coughlan brings some of his Roy Orbison influence to the performance. As with much of the album, Tracyanne and Danny create music that sounds classic and familiar while putting enough of their own twists on it to keep it fresh. “It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts” somehow can fit both on contemporary radio playlists and on the next Time Life compilation.
Regardless of a track’s categorization, Campbell’s singing resonates. The opening moments of the album, her quick delivery of “I was walking through the rubble of a Saturday night” on “Home and Dry,” reveal her ability to be expressive while restrained. The duo then develop the song with careful orchestration and well-matched vocal interplay. In every instance, they commit to the song rather than to alternating tracks or verses or to providing showcases for either artist.
By the time the album closes with the slow travel of “O’Keeffe,” the pair has moved far from their British Isle beginnings to the New Mexican landscape of Georgia O’Keeffe. It’s an escape of sorts—“my faraway” referencing a landscape of the imagination as much as anything—with both singers turning to an evocative setting to pin down their longings. It’s a fitting close for the album, which successfully relies on renewing past musical landscapes to find an emotional and artistic home.