Review Tony Kamel, Back Down Home
Wood & Wire frontman leans into reflective ballads and rollicking Gulf Coast sounds on solo album
With local string dusters Wood & Wire sidelined over the past year, Tony Kamel took the opportunity to stretch his solo wings. The local songwriter hunkered in the Bunker of Bruce Robison's Lockhart studio and recruited an impressive support roster. Geoff Queen's steel, Noah Jeffries' fiddle and mandolin, Scott Davis' guitar, and Josh Blue's percussion provide the core, with Trevor Nealon and Emily Gimble contributing keys. The Shinyribs crew even joins in for some backing vocals.
While Back Down Home doesn't stray too far afield from W&W familiarity, the album's distinctly Kamel's, allowing him to lean into ballads and strike a more reflective and personal tone. It also flows more heavily into Kamel's Gulf Coast roots, playfully striking up Cajun rhythms and East Texas blues.
"Amen" leads off with a rollick, a touch of John Hartford in the loping drops of wisdom that carries into the easy salt-licked steel and mandolin weaving through "Slow on the Gulf." "Who Am I Kidding?" catches Kamel at his most introspective, reckoning with growing up, fatherhood, and the uncertain life of a musician.
The B-side cues bluesier, with the unexpected horn blast of "Heat" and chugging breakdown of "Reuben's Train" sandwiching the Cajun waltz of "The Surfer" and remarkably sliding "This River." Closer "Change" reels with a mournful Appalachian howl, bringing the collection full circle.
Back Down Home feels like Kamel catching up with his past so he can move on to the future.