By Tim Sommer
“You can almost say that all good music is folk music. Folk music, to me, means music that comes out of the soil of who a person is, grows out of that dirt of who a person is.”
These words of extraordinary wisdom come from the mouth of Larry Campbell a gentleman who is generally better known for what he plays than what he says. Mr. Campbell is a legendary musician and one of the most respected multi-instrumentalists, accompanists, and producers in the entire genre of Americana music (more on that in a second). More pertinently, Mr. Campbell has just released a rich, rough, romantic, and deeply wonderful album with his wife and long-time musical partner, Teresa Williams.
“Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams” is electric and organic, full of the thrill of freedom and the foundation of faith and family. A fresh, loving, and joyous ramble through a century and more of American moods and music, it’s as smooth and as tough as a Moonshine Fribble. The album is a perfect mixture of all the many, many elements – modern and ancient, thorny and smooth – that comprises the American music that Larry and Teresa honor.
Having been a couple for nearly 30 years and having worked together very, very frequently during that time (most famously as collaborators with the legendary Levon Helm of The Band), it seems odd that it’s taken the couple this long to make an album together under their own name.
“That’s true,” notes Mr. Campbell. “In retrospect, it seems like ‘Well, why did this take so long?’ But it took so long because, well, it took so long. For the past decade, Teresa and I have been vey busy with other people, with Levon and Phil Lesh and Hot Tuna and Little Feat, and I had records I was producing and Teresa had projects she was involved with, but in the end this record happened very organically – it wasn’t pushed or forced in any way. “
“If anyone was planning this, I didn’t know anything about it until we actually did it,” Ms. Williams adds, enthusiastically. “I am kind of surprised it took us this long to have a ‘light bulb moment’ that maybe we needed to do a record.”
“Once we started doing it, it happened very naturally,” says Mr. Campbell
“We’re pretty good working together, actually,” Ms. Williams adds. “I think a lot of couples may have trouble, but we do really well with it.”
Shimmering, hopping, sweet, sassy, and majestic, “Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams” is full of music that’s close to the heart and a great treasure to the ears, mixing spontaneity of performance, honesty of emotion, and an utterly enveloping warmth of recording (Mr. Campbell makes sure to credit engineer Justin Guip for getting it all on tape just right).
There’s a long legacy of experience, credibility, and history that went into this project. Mr. Campbell is winner of a trio Grammys (and in 2008 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Americana Music Association), and there’s barely an Americana artist you can name that he hasn’t played with, from Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman to Phil Lesh, Hot Tuna, and long associations with Bob Dylan and Levon Helm. Ms. Williams, who has sang on stage and in the studio alongside Mr. Campbell on many of those projects, has also collaborated with Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Bramlett, and has portrayed the legendary Sara Carter – one of the formative figures in the history of country music – in numerous television specials and live theatre presentations about the legendary Carter Family. Together, Mr. Campbell and Ms. Williams have been described as “The First Couple of Americana,” and this record has been long awaited by fans of country, jam band music, folk, and all the many corners of American music the artists visit with their work.
With all of it’s influences and emotional and musical touchstones, you would be very hard pressed to put a finger on “one” sound or genre represented by the joy, abandon, and emotional force of the duo’s work.
“I can tell you what I try to do, and that’s just play honest music,” states Mr. Campbell. “Honest meaning, which through me gets interpreted, hopefully, in an honest way, filtered through who I am and my life experiences. Now, that might sound a little esoteric, but I don’t know if I can classify it any less broadly.”
That’s why it’s very convenient that the label “Americana” – only truly popularized in the last two decades – exists to cover the explorations of sound, style, territory, and category contained in “Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams.”
“I’m just grateful that there is a name, finally,” says Mr. Campbell. “I’m grateful that for all of us who are drawn to all these different American genres and want to be creative and prolific and in them without being tied to one of them, now, at least, they can all go into a particular box. Everything has to have its box – that’s the way human nature is, it’s just what we do as humans, we have to be able to put something into a box so we can handle it and understand it. Now we have an Americana box, and I’m just glad it exists. Just having that title gives you all kinds of freedom to bounce around in the subgenres. I think it’s a great thing.”
In order to promote their first formal release as a duo, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams will be playing the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, January 16. What can we expect?
“The goal here – and this is one of the things I learned from Levon – is to just go, show up, and have a great time playing music we love to play,” says Mr. Campbell. “As long as we’re having a good time doing it, I’m completely confident that the audience is going to have a good time listening to it.”
Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams perform on January 16 at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach. For more information, call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.