Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

This long awaited debut from the long-married duo mixes blues, country, and gospel traditions into one of the strongest Americana albums of the year.

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

US Release: 2015-06-23
UK Release: 2015-06-15
Label: Red House

Larry Campbell has been a fixture in the roots music circuit for 40 years, as a three-time Grammy-winning producer for Levon Helm and more than a dozen other artists including Jorma Kaukonen and Richard Shindell, as a session player supporting everyone from Willie Nelson to the Backstreet Boys, and as a tour-band stalwart, highlighted by a seven-year stint as part of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour". Teresa Williams has built an equally varied and successful career, from embodying the role of Sara Carter in several theatrical and film projects, touring with artists such as Phil Lesh and Friends, and recording with an array of top-tier performers including Emmy Lou Harris, Mavis Staples, and Little Feat. Despite all this, the married couple of Campbell and Williams had not found the opportunity to work together in any extended manner until Helm called them with an invite to join in on his well-known Midnight Rambles sessions.

The seven years they spent as part of that ongoing project contributed to Helm’s late-career renaissance and served, for Campbell, as a capstone apprenticeship to a lifetime spent learning his craft. Campbell calls their time with Helm “the most pure musical experience I’ve ever had,” and credits the legend, who passed away in 2012, with giving him “the template for how to make music for the rest of my life". Those lessons and that template are in full display on Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, the couple’s debut record, a pure distillation of blues, country, and gospel traditions and a serious contender for the title of this year’s best Americana album.

Campbell establishes himself as a songwriter of note, here, penning eight of the album’s 11 cuts. A back-country blues lick opens the album as “Surrender to Love” reveals Campbell’s wry way with words: “Tell me what you’re trying to show me. / Show me what you’re trying to say.” Teresa joins in on a song that questions the point of arguing when both partners want the same thing anyway. Playing with the imagery of fugitives on the run, the singers find their solution in the song’s title. The honky-tonk inflected “Bad Luck Charm” follows, the kind of gasoline and matches relationship song perfected by Buddy and Julie Miller, whose combative harmonies Campbell and Williams readily evoke here. The yearning in Williams’ voice on “Another One More Time” and Campbell’s self-recriminatory baritone on “Down on My Knees” demonstrate the intuitive perspective that these artists bring to their narrative explorations of relationships.

Their erudite selection of covers further displays their lifelong immersion in America’s sonic heritage. Their cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Running Wild” features one of Helm’s final recorded performances and evokes the vocal intimacies of Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris, who were among the first to reintroduce that sublime and tragic duo to the pop market. They offer a mournful version of the Grateful Dead’s “Attics of My Life” to close the set, Campbell’s delicate guitar work echoing Jerry Garcia’s telltale style. But it is their version of the Reverend Gary Davis’ apocalyptic hymn “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” that reveals the burning passion at the heart of this recording. Williams sings with the conviction of one possessed of otherworldly vision, each verse rising in an intensity of ecstatic longing until she finds herself just this side of speaking (or singing) in tongues. It’s the kind of vocal performance that can define a career.

Midnight Ramble veterans Byron Isaacs (bass) and Justin Guip (drums) are joined by Little Feat’s Bill Payne on piano to form a monster backing unit for Campbell’s arsenal of classic guitar licks and Williams’ dynamic voice. Hearing this collection, countless Americana fans will understandably wonder why we have waited so long for this duo to commit themselves to record. But the more interesting question in my mind is: What’s next?


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less

Multi-tasking on your smart phone consumes too many resources, including memory, and can cause the system to "choke". Imagine what it does to your brain.

In the simplest of terms, Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen's The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World is a book about technology and the distractions that often accompany it. This may not sound like anything earth shattering. A lot of people have written about this subject. Still, this book feels a little different. It's a unique combination of research, data, and observation. Equally important, it doesn't just talk about the problem—it suggests solutions.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.