Hamilton Camp, Paths Of Victory, 1964

Hamilton Camp, also known as Bob Camp, was born in England 1934 and died an American in 2005. It seems he was more of an actor and voice-actor than singer-songwriter, but even so, he authored several songs for such pop luminaries as Simon & Garfunkel, Judy Collins, and Gordon Lightfoot. Paths Of Victory was his debut album as a solo performer, but he made a few more in the sixties and seventies.

This isn’t quite a full Dylan covers album – only 7 of the 13 tracks are Dylan compositions, which puts it just within scope of my project. Six of the seven were unreleased by Dylan at the time, but he’d recorded them for Witmark and all appear on the Witmark Demos (1962-1964) boxset. So presumably Witmark furnished Camp with the music for his album. Linda Mason can rest assured she still achieves a “first” for Dylan cover albums; according to the Hamilton Camp web page, Paths Of Victory was released at the very end of 64, beginning of 65.

So here we have an actual male folk artist covering Dylan way back in 1964. His closest contemporary in that field would have been Hugues Aufray, the French folk singer who covered Dylan in 65, and both in a tasteful guitar/harmonica unfancy folk style. According to his website, Camp “avoids the mannered, reverential delivery that dates so many ‘60s folk boom LPs to the historical dustbin.” Usually these claims are direct denials of how awful the albums are, but it’s true in this case – Camp sings and plays with a rough and ready quality that makes this at least as interesting to listen to as someone like Phil Ochs. That said, he does on occasion, regress into some mannered and plummy folk vocal that makes me feel like I’m being scolded by a schoolmarm. There’s even one Camp-penned original on here, “Pride of Man.” All right let’s get you readers scrollin’…

Guess I’m Doin’ Fine… I had to pull out my Witmark boxset to re-listen to Dylan’s original, because it wasn’t a song I could remember. Of course Dylan’s version is lo-fi and murky, so it’s nice hearing a crisp recording of this song sung by someone who’s voice isn’t a million miles from Dylan’s. Camp sounds sharper. His guitar playing here is a series of rapidly executed arpeggio figures, and he plays a fine harmonica. In fact, given his voice (not trying to emulate Dylan), his guitar and harmonica, he seems to represent a parallel dimension of young men doing folk in the early sixties. His singing comes from the heart, and it would be easy to imagine these songs as his own. This song is okay, nothing to get too excited about, with mildly amusing lyrics about bad times vs good times.

Girl Of The North Country… this version is reminiscent of the Nashville Skyline duet with that clean country vocal. You have to admire Camp’s singing on these songs. They ain’t earnest and reverent at all; no, he makes the songs his own, just as Dylan did with his covers. He sings them to his own beat. He does engage in a few dynamic theatrical variants such as on the word “north” when he whoops it up loudly, which is a touch Dylanesque as per Bob Dylan (1962), but this is a good cover version.

The Rubaiyat… credited to Edward Fitzgerald. Reminds me more of Nick Drake, with what I assume is a minor key melody. It’s slightly gloomy sounding and shadowy, with a low quick vocal covering a lot of lyrical ground in short space. I find the harmonica to be a little loud and incongruous to the guitar melody. “The Rubaiyat” is a highly regarded translation of a Persian poem that was apparently once a staple of the English canon and very popular, but which has since been neglected. A quick read, and I must admit I found it a little antiquated such that I couldn’t be bothered trying to understand it, not least because it’s a 101 stanzas long and full of obscure Persian references. This is obviously a heavily abridged version. Generally the poem appears to be an ode to alcohol.

Walkin’ Down The Line… originally appearing on Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3, but also from the Witmark Demos set. Always loved this song, and Camp keeps the melody flowing strong and fast. Almost too fast, if anything. It feels like it’s blowing past at the speed of a gale. There seems to be a backing vocal on this track, unless it’s Camp dueting with himself. He gets quite excited with his whoops and hoots. Good, but definitely rushed through too quickly, thus painting the song with the trivial brush.

A Satisfied Mind…credited to writers Rhodes/Hay. This is slower, with heave-ho guitar melody and grungy harmonica, This is an inspired choice, something about how few men live with satisfied minds, about how the more money and fame one has, the less satisfied one is in life. So, it acts as symmetry to the first track “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine” in that it reflects a more measured serious view of the same problem, sans the earlier song’s irony. The mix of guitar and harmonica is exceptionally good, and astoundingly similar to Dylan without ever giving that feeling that Camp’s a very good mimic. I guess he just took more to the acting thing because the quality of material suggests he could have done great things in music if he’d kept writing.

Pride Of Man… this is Camp’s claim to fame, originally made famous by Gordon Lightfoot as well as Quicksilver Messenger Service. The lyric is biblical in scope and scour, recalling great civilizations that came and went according to the wrath of a character called “God,” presumably with the intention of warning mankind about impending doom, in the manner of “A Hard Rain” and its ilk. One would like to know how much influence Dylan had on Camp when it came to his lyrics. As I’m observing here, there’s a strong literary bent to Camp’s choice of songs, given that we’ve got some W.B. Yeats coming up on side two and other Irish poems.

Get Together… credited to Dino Valenti, a fellow Greenwich village folk singer. Much slower, with heavy bass, but the vocal is a touch overwrought. Love the guitar playing here, a sort of scratchy insistent strum, but it’s the bass the really makes the song. Camp gets a bit wavery and plummy and lecturing here, but musically the song is loose, powerful, slightly experimental. Camp glides all over his voice range weirdly. Best song on the LP and it’s not a Dylan one. I could’ve done with a more restrained, quieter vocal, but otherwise, a worthy version.

Innisfree… otherwise known as the poem by Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” This is where the blurb about Camp breaks down—here he’s plummy and self-serious and delicate and way too folk-music earnest. I studied this poem in high school, and then again at university, so it’s interesting to hear someone put a tune to it, and it actually works. It’s also got that slight jazzy quality to it that we heard on “Get Together.” Nice.

Long Time Gone… back to the Dylan covers, and as such, the actor in Camp comes out—he switches his vocal back to his rough and ready style, which is not an attempt to emulate Dylan, but definitely something “cooler” than his English-folk pastoral style. This is good though, a strong performance, nice mix of bass and guitar, a confident full vocal style that takes command of the lyric and owns it. Brilliant.

Only A Hobo… slower than Dylan’s version, with a see-saw rhythm, more dirge-like, more funereal, more genuine lament for this dead hobo, the musical tones are all gravelly and low and ominous, except for the wailing harmonica. Nice.

Irish Poems: The Lonely/The Stranger’s Grave… back to English pastoral, Sound of Music, or Arthur Lee-like enunciation, ladylike eloquence from Camp-the-actor in poem recital mode, with Nick Drake-ish half-strummed, half-plucked single minor chord melody. This one hasn’t quite reached out and grabbed me. Lyrical poem….something about lives being taken way too young.

Tomorrow Is A Long Time… here Camp somehow straddles his English folk-voice and his standard sharp tones simultaneously, but here we go into full on folk mode with double-tracked vocal, and it reminds me a little of Joan Baez’s cover of this song. The recording is loud, as it is on most of these tracks, such that it almost pushes the sound into distortion on occasion, which is my only gripe about the otherwise nicely presented record. This is a worthy cover.

Paths Of Victory… here Camp once again reaches back to his English accent and pulls it up into high and mighty brigadier mode, but again, it’s a really strange thing the way he weaves a variety of accents and tones into his voice, as well as the occasional Dylan affectation. This is yer standard strum-and-blow folk cover of a melodic Dylan song, which itself sounds like a rewrite of a Guthrie song. Gets all noisy in the instrumental break, as in the lyrical content which proclaims victory in ironically patriotic tones. Good stuff.

This was a cool discovery I think. The recording quality of this LP is fine but there is a slightly annoying recording level issue in that volumes of voice and instrument are mixed a little harshly in places, when some kind of equalisation might have helped. This is a weird thing to say because I love old sixties recordings generally, but there are times when (13th Floor Elevators are another example) the sound gets out of hand, badly mixed, or too much experimentation yielding less than satisfactory results. Forget that though. What I want to say is that these Hamilton Camp recordings transcend their limitation. A good album, not perfect, but easily one worth spending time with. Full list of Dylan cover albums reviewed HERE.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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