Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams (from the album Live At Levon’s)
By: Lee Zimmerman
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams bring a lot of talent to the table. Campbell served as Bob Dylan’s guitarist for a number of years and was also Levon Helm’s music director for nearly a decade. He’s a regular fixture on the Nashville music scene and can consistently be found performing as part of Buddy Miller’s house band at the annual Americana Music Award honors. Nowadays, in addition to producing, touring, and recording, he partners with his wife Teresa, an exceptional singer who honed her talents attending church in rural Tennessee. She subsequently moved to New York to pursue a career in music and acting, which is where the two met.
In a true sense, then, Live at Levon’s is the culmination of all their efforts, given the fact that its location in Woodstock, New York is now the duo’s adopted hometown. It’s familiar turf for Campbell, having played there consistently at the helm of Levon’s Midnight Ramble Band. A mix of Campbell originals and singular standards, the new album finds the duo pouring heart and soul into each offering, while rendering them in their own singular style.
A jaunty “Let Us Get Together”, a song famously written by Rev. Gary Davis, kicks things off with a celebratory stance. The shared communal spirit of “Surrender to Love” and the brassy swing of the sing-along “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” help keep that upbeat attitude intact. The rest of the band — drummer and percussionist Justin Culp, singer, bassist and tuba player Jesse Murphy, and singer, keyboard, harmonica and accordion player Brian Mitchell — ensure that the energy remains intact.
What’s also impressive about this performance is the sheer variety in terms of source material. A triumphant take on Duke Ellington’s classic “Caravan” is especially rousing and robust. The same can be said of the band’s double-time delivery of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and Campbell’s own “It Ain’t Gonna Be a Good Night”, both of which round out the set with some attendant enthusiasm.
On the other hand, that merriment doesn’t detract from the drive and determination expressed in “Angel of Darkness” or the tender trappings found in the beautiful balladry of John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon”. “Success” shares reflection and remorse. So too, when Campbell takes lead vocals on the soulful “When I Stop Loving You”, it sounds like an archival offering of vintage designs.
Contrary to what that aforementioned song implied, it clearly was a good night after all.