(April 2024)


REVIEW: After All This Time , Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams Still Know What it Takes to Love

Artist: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Album: All This Time

By: Henry Carrigan

In 2020 multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Larry Campbell almost died. Like millions of others around the world, he contracted COVID, and he lost his sense of smell and taste. He lived his days in fever dreams, and just when it looked as if the fog was going to lift, the storm of symptoms would move back in. Even worse, Campbell was quarantined alone in his home in Woodstock, New York, while his wife and collaborator Teresa Williams was isolated in the couple’s apartment in Manhattan, unable to visit Campbell. “I couldn’t go anyway,” she recalls. “One of us needs to be standing. But it was awful. I was afraid he would wake up dead. Talking to him over the phone was like holding his hand.”

After six weeks, Campbell emerged from the shadows of COVID, thanks in large part to the power of his and Williams’ enduring love and care for each other. One day at the end of his ordeal, Campbell picked up his mandolin, and Williams says on that day she knew he was getting better. The couple’s new album, All This Time, grew out of this time of separation as well as out of the ups and downs of the couple’s 36 years together. “I felt like it was coming out of when he was down with COVID,” says Williams. Campbell agrees, “I didn’t set out to write an album, but when Teresa listened to these songs—and she’s good about this—she said they fit together beautifully and we should do the album.”

Campbell and Williams honed their performing partnership recording and touring with Levon Helm. Campbell was musical director of Levon’s band and the producer of three Levon Helm albums. “I had called off my wedding in June, and I met Larry in October,” Williams chuckles. The two finally got together at a gig of a mutual friend of his at the Bottom Line in New York City. “My friend, Michael Simmons, told me about a show with this woman at the Bottom Line and asked if I would play pedal steel. I took one look at her and told my bass player, ‘I’m gonna marry that woman,’” laughs Campbell. And Williams chuckles, “It was love at first pedal steel note for me. I could see down into his soul through his eyes. We’re day and night in lots of ways, but we’re very sympatico musically.”

On All This Time, their intimate approach to the music shines brightly as they explore human yearnings for connection and intimacy and the obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of such desire. As Campbell observes of the album, “Human connection is the theme through these songs. When you come that close to losing your mortality, you start thinking how vital it was to have this relationship with her and to be connected.” He recalls that the “melodic part of the writing started coming to me even longer before I could put words to it. I had a hard time finishing the songs; I just couldn’t finish a song then I read Mary Gauthier’s book Saved by a Song and she gave me permission to finish the songs,” he says.

The album kicks off with the raucous rocker “Desert Island Dreams,” propelled by Campbell’s blistering opening lead runs and Williams’ soaring vocals. The opening words express the theme of the song: “Slow down, breathe deep.” “It took me a while to cotton up to this song,” recalls Campbell. “It started with a phrase, but it took a little before I realized what the song was about. We just need to take a break sometimes from the crazy way we’re living; wouldn’t it be great if we could just stop treat your time like that desert island?”

The jaunty organ-fueled “All This Time” evokes the ragged passions that animate our relationships and that contribute to the durability of those relationships. “This melody has been around for years,” recalls Campbell. “You search and search for the right person, and you realize that person has been standing right in front of you all along.” For Williams, the song reflects the character of her relationship with Campbell: “To spend 36 years with somebody and never question you made the right decision; I couldn’t have made a better decision.”

The layers of bright instrumentation and melody on “Ride with Me” convey the passion of the moments of a relationship and the languorous unfolding of those feelings. “This song hits a sweet spot for me,” says Williams. “I love singing it.” Campbell agrees: “I love the way Teresa sings this song. It’s a bit of a departure. Another song that the melody was with me the whole time. When you first meet somebody and can feel the attraction but you don’t want to force anything, you think about the possibilities… you have this potential adventure ahead of you and you just ride.”

The soulful Memphis-meets-Motown “I Think about You” shuffles along with a sonic vibe from The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” The aching B3 in the song captures the poignant longings of one lover for another despite the imperfections in a relationship: “After all we’ve been through/I still think about the love we have to give/The life we wanna live/I think about you.”

The ode to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the country crooner “A Little Better” is a paean to finding the simple joys and stringing them all together to get through the bad times and feel a little better “when Stan and Ollie dance.”

Campbell wrote seven of the ten songs on All This Time, but the other three blend perfectly with the album’s themes. Campbell and Williams had laid down most of their version of George Jones’ “That’s All It Took” back when they were recording Levon Helms’ Electric Dirt album, and they wanted to include a Jones song on this album just as they had on their earlier albums. Campbell’s piercing lead runs drive couple’s version of Julie Miller’s “I Love You.” “Julie literally handed it to me,” laughs Williams. “She gave it to us a couple of years ago,” concurs Campbell, “and when Julie Miller gives you a song it’s like Christmas.” The album closes with Campbell and Williams’ take on Jesse Colin Young’s gorgeous folk song “Pretty and the Fair.” “When I first came back to New York in 1978,” recalls Campbell, “I was playing in a band with Marty David, who played with Jesse and he had just done this song with him. It seemed to fit this album.” Williams chuckles, “it hangs in a nice hammocky place.”

On All This Time Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams capture the vagaries of time and love through their exquisite songwriting, singing, and playing. The album is a testimony not only to the enduring character of their love for each other but a testament to the deep yearnings we all have to be connected to others in durable ways.