Growing up in Scotland, all horizons were gray for sunny Camera Obscura singer Tracyanne Campbell. And this was to be expected.
“If you’re a girl from the south side of Glasgow, you can’t really have too many ideas above your station, you have to keep it real,” says the humble Campbell, who took the popularity of her chiming, charming outfit in stride.
But lately she’s been swelling with pride, thanks to “Tracyanne & Danny,” a 2018 album of duets she cut with U.K. folkie Danny Coughlan, aka Crybaby, which they’ll debut in San Francisco this week.
While Campbell never thought she’d have the guts to fly solo, she had no choice. Her childhood chum, Camera Obscura keyboardist Carey Lander, died in October 2015 of a rare form of bone cancer.
Reeling from grief, the survivors signed off. “My first instinct was not to go in and write a song and tell somebody about it,” says Campbell, who had no idea when, or if, the band would enter a studio again. “It was a very private thing, and I grieved in the way that I needed to. And the grief never ends. I still love Carey and I feel like there’s a huge part of my life that’s missing,” says Campbell.
Her salvation arrived in the form of Coughlan, a performer who opened for Camera Obscura five years earlier and promised to collaborate with her in the future.
His follow-up call was fortuitous. The pair began exchanging song snippets by email, then eventually decamping to ex-Orange Juice anchor Edwyn Collins’ cliff-top cottage studio on the Northeast Scottish coast. Having fought his way back from two crippling brain hemorrhages, Collins was a study in perseverance himself, Campbell recalls.
“Just working on songs with Danny helped me focus, helped me feel positive about the future,” she says. “And Edwyn is like a walking medical miracle.”
Although Camera Obscura, known for its ABBA-ebullient sonic perfection, won’t hire just any keyboardist to pick up where Lander left off, the group is easing back into playing concerts — even a Scottish-rock boat tour in the summer. And Campbell is finally feeling her oats again.
Considering chipper “Tracyanne & Danny” material such as the 1950s-echoed “The Honeymooners,” a pedal-steel twanged “Alabama” and the duo’s tambourine-powered “Home and Dry,” Campbell can’t stifle a boast or two. “Your friends and your family may tell you to pipe down, but these days I can recognize my own talents, and I think that’s a good thing,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Tracyanne & Danny
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 4
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (415) 375-3370, www.eventbrite.com