There are few singer-songwriters who can overcome the task of taking the stage alone, armed with only their voice and an acoustic guitar. But leave it to Megan Slankard and Jeff Campbell to pack the Burlap and Bean coffee shop in Newtown Square on July 20.
Not knowing anything about Burlap and Bean at first, patrons may assume it is just another local coffee shop that hosts open mics and acts as a venue occasionally. However, once inside, guests will find that this charming and cozy spot is actually more of a venue that just happens to have a coffee shop; a pleasant surprise for music lovers.
The standing room only crowd was quiet and polite, adhering to Burlap’s “listening room” policy, which includes the hiatus of beverage service during sets and a doorperson making sure guests only enter or exit during the lull between songs.
After Slankard’s second record, Freaky Little Story, gained popularity in 2004, (undoubtedly helped by exposure gained from her appearance on the TLC make-over show, “What Not To Wear”), Slankard quickly released the more polished and pop-oriented A Little Extra Sun EP the following year. However, she took over a five year break before releasing her third full-length, A Token of the Wreckage, in early 2011. Wreckage found Slankard going back to her folksy roots, while expertly weaving in the pop sheen cultivated from the Extra Sun EP.
Slankard’s set was heavy on this new material, including the endearingly short and sweet, “The Happy Birthday,” (which Slankard explains was legitimately written as a birthday gift for a friend) and a stripped down version of “The Tragic Life of Caleb,” an honest apology song that shape shifts into a question about life after death, both literally and metaphorically. For her encore, Slankard pulled the up-beat, tongue -twisting “Riley,” one of the few songs performed from any of her older albums.
Campbell, a Philadelphia native, joined Slankard on stage for many songs during the second half of her set, and Slankard reciprocated, joining him for some songs during his set that the two had written together, like the longing “Somethin for Nothin,” off Campbell’s debut album, Stop and Go, released earlier this year. Along with his solo career and collaborations with Slankard, Campbell is also involved in a hard rock band called Pine and Battery, for which he is the front man.
Slankard and Campbell proved themselves to be incredibly well-matched and in sync, both having a knack for storytelling through their music and penning some thoughtful lyrics. Campbell opened his set with “4th Street,” the self-aware ‘I’m not good enough for you’ song and continued to showcase a hefty chunk of songs off “Stop and Go,” including “Laundry Day” and the finger-picking album-opener, “Shut Your Mouth.”
Both Slankard and Campbell will return to the West Coast to finish up the summer, with Slankard following an Aug 10 appearance at the Women’s RedRock Festival in Utah with a mix of solo shows and dates with her side project, The Novelists. For more information on Slankard and Campbell, and to make sure you catch them next time they hit the East Coast, check out their websites at MeganSlankard.com and JeffCampbellMusic.com.