Chapter Sixteen: Which CD Will It Be?

(Editor’s note: I moved from an apartment into a house starting January 1st, 2020, and I had to toss all my CDs into a big garbage bag during the move. The idea for this feature is I write a review about each CD as I unpack that bag, one CD at a time, and rank them.)

The Sixteenth CD Out of the Bag

Track listings

1. Eight Feet High; 2. Why You Been Gone So Long; 3. I Can Dream; 4. Midnight Angel; 5. Hurt City; 6. Pop a Top; 7. Sometimes She Forgets; 8. Honey I Do; 9. Mind Over Matter; 10. There’s the Door.

Snapshot review

Hurt City by Stacy Dean Campbell is another near-perfect country music album mostly overlooked by mainstream radio in the mid-1990s. With ten songs and just thirty-one minutes of music, Campbell delivers a heartfelt, honky-tonk masterpiece, dripping with longing and regret. From the claustrophobic barfly in the explosive opener “Eight Feet High” to the sobering end of a marriage in final track “There’s the Door,” Campbell sings every song like he’s lived it. Loneliness is the only drink served in Hurt City, and it’s a strong brew.

Campbell’s sorrow smolders in the aching regret of “I Can Dream,” a gorgeous Orbisonesque ballad. When Campbell starts singing the third verse, his wish fulfillment has become epically heartbreaking. “Midnight Angel” finds a man “who can’t make it through this night alone” calling for a woman to “wrap me in your wings and take me home.”

The introspective title track is the most descriptive song on the album. It’s about a man who wants to come home to his love. He calls her sister, but her sister says to leave her alone. His response? “I only wanted to ask how much should one heart ache? Why must I pay for the rest of my life for one foolish mistake?” Damn.

Campbell sings a fine cover of Steve Earle’s haunting ballad “Sometimes She Forgets,” and we find a man in denial about his feelings when he realizes he’s lost his love to another in the cleverly phrased “Mind Over Matter.”

Breaking up the sadness are a trio of upbeat moments on the album (even though they’re all about downbeat men). In “Why You Been Gone So Long,” a man wonders where his woman went. Campbell also performs an excellent cover of Jim Ed Brown’s 1967 honky-tonk classic “Pop a Top,” and “Honey I Do” features another barfly wishing his baby would come back home.

Released in 1995, Hurt City couldn’t gain any traction on mainstream country radio with only “Honey I Do” cracking the Billboard Country Charts. John Michael Montgomery, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Brooks and Dunn dominated the charts in 1995, and it was also the year Shania Twain exploded onto the country music scene. Campbell’s previous 1992 album, Lonesome Wins Again, charted three songs. After Hurt City, Campbell focused on his songwriting, and in 1999, followed up with the more acoustic Americana album, Ashes of Old Love. Lately, he’s been writing books like Rambling Heart and Cottonwood.

My favorite song

Tough call between the tormented visions of “I Can Dream” or the spiraling distress of “Eight Feet High.” They say the first cut is the deepest, so I’ll go with the opener “Eight Feet High.” From the moment Campbell sings the words “my sky” before the music kicks into gear and finishes with “is only eight feet high,” I knew the album was going to be a barn burner. Drowned in the tears of a classic steel guitar, the song effectively uses the outdoors of nature to describe the indoors of a bar “where the sun never shines” and “smoky clouds hang just above my troubled mind.” It’s two minutes and twenty-one seconds of pure honky-tonk bliss.

My favorite lines of my favorite song

“How can I recover from this fall,

When everywhere there’s memories wall to wall.”


Chapter Fifteen: Which CD Will It Be?

Chapter Fourteen: Which CD Will It Be?

Chapter Thirteen: Which CD Will It Be?

Chapter Twelve: Which CD Will It Be?

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