LARRY CAMPBELL AND TERESA WILLIAMS KEEP GRASP ON PAST WITH CONTRABAND LOVE (ALBUM REVIEW)
Pictured on the cover of Contraband Love, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams look like nothing so much as a new American Gothic. And the record follows suit, comprised of eight originals plus three choice covers with the spare accompaniment of bassist Jesse Murphy and drummer Justin Guip (who recorded and mixed the record under the supervision of Campbell as producer). Campbell and Williams have created an object lesson in authenticity comparable to their eponymous debut.
Yet, even as carefully posed as are Campbell and Williams in all the photos inside and out of this package, they do not put on any airs that undermine the legitimacy of the music they make together. Instead, they remain cognizant of their roots both traditional (Louvin Brothers, Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner) and contemporary (Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons). So, even as the pair evoke the lonesome sounds of Appalachia on “The Other Side of Pain,” the polish they apply is enough to make their sound modern, without any strain to sound ‘right.’
A Carl Perkins tune, “Turn Around,” is an overt nod to influences, including Band member and mentor Levon Helm on drums shortly before his passing. It’s a more lighthearted number than many of those on Contraband Love and one that, like the nonchalant stomp of “It Ain’t Gonna Be a Good Night,” clarifies the successful processing of jazz on “My Sweetie Went Away.” There’s a sense of history both musical and personal on this album highlighted by the deliberate juxtaposition of two tracks in the song sequence: a streamlined song of Campbell’s called “The Wishing Well,” and the blues traditional (complete with yodel ) “Slidin’ Delta.”
It’s impossible not to hear comparisons with Emmylou Harris in hearing Williams’ singing on “Save Me From Myself,” but there’s a sense of depth, arising from the song itself, that personalizes it even more than the quietly rollicking piano played by Little Feat’s Bill Payne. Campbell’s skills as a composer clearly arise directly from his instrumental expertise, but he doesn’t exercise technique for its own sake; rather, as with his pedal steel and mandolin here, he performs in service of the song.
And when he lets rip with electric guitar solos and fills on “Hit and Run Driver,” the exuberance of that interval only enhances the subdued acoustic waltz of this title song. The man’s slightly wooden vocal style makes a good foil for Teresa’s more tuneful, fluid voice, so that, when they raise their voices together in song during “When I Stop Loving You,” the clear-cut effort the duo exert removes any sense they take their collaboration lightly. Similarly, the phrasing Larry uses on “Three Days In A Row” suits the restless pace of that number, placing his designation as lead singer there right in line with all the other wise choices in the arrangements on Contraband Love.
by Doug Collette