Teresa Williams & Larry Campbell Flourish With Deeply Embedded Skills & Showmanship at Higher Ground (SHOW REVIEW)

Teresa Williams sang like a woman possessed during the last number of the evening on November 15 at Higher Ground in South Burlington, VT. With Larry Campbell at her side, letting rip on his Telecaster in a way he had not previously that night, the woman seemed in a trance at certain points during the traditional “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” that is, when her voice wasn’t going from a whisper to a scream, then back again.

It was no wonder then that the audience was awestruck and silent when the duo and their bandmates finished this encore. But that quiet was in marked contrast to the loud and immediate response following the romping version of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,”  that ended the show proper, a sequence that in itself imbued this near two-hour performance with logic: that selection in itself was representative of the expert pacing in play in this small room of Higher Ground; the audience’s enthusiasm was out of proportion to its sparsity (perhaps due to impending winter weather)

Larry Campbell never showed off this night, but as in his acoustic guitar trade-offs with drummer Justin Guip and bassist/vocalist Jesse Murphy, on “Everybody Loves You” into  “Cry, Cry, Cry,”  he did demonstrate the technical skills that cemented his position as long-time guitarist for Bob Dylan and subsequently the late Levon Helm’s right-hand man at the former drummer of the Band’s studio complex in Woodstock New York. As did his rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” which sounded like nothing so much as a variation on surf rock?!

In keeping with the hirsute musician’s deferential and good-natured demeanor, such exhibitions were as often as not conducted during the course of tunes like his original “Save Me From Myself” where his fills around Williams’ vocals were complementary rather than intrusive in any way. And, in this modest setting, with a premium on the economy—in contrast to the open terrain he traveled in the company of Phil Lesh and Friends around 2006—the multi-instrumentalist’s solos were short and to the point, ideal in the sense Campbell invariably wet the audience’s appetite for more.

It’s a tribute to Larry Campbell’s deeply-embedded skills that such discipline was just as obvious when he played mandolin and fiddle. Adorning his own songwriting collaborations with such varied textures and sounds further highlighted the diversity of material he and Williams introduced this night: the range included their own “The Other Side of Pain” as well as the material of others, such as “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” by Tracey Schwarz of New Lost City Ramblers and c&w icons the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Running Wild.”  The couple’s return to this room was far more than just a replay of their concert in the spring of 2016, even though on the surface it might’ve seemed quite similar.

That’s apart from the somewhat ingratiating between-song repartee that marked the early going. But the back and forth between the principals receded as things progressed, giving precedence to backstories like that of “When I Stop Loving You:”Campbell’s writing with r&b icon William Bell stood as further illustration of he and his wife sure grasp of their roots, beyond the folk-country tone of their two studio records. In fact, the man’s full-throated abandon when singing the song he wrote with the author of “Born Under A Bad Sign” again brought to mind the increasingly soulful tone of his wife’s vocals, begun on “Surrender to Love.”

Its placement near set’s end stood as a precursor to those enthralling moments at the finish and a further reminder of the innate professionalism at work on this small stage. Murphy had openings for a couple brief solos and those intervals, along with Campbell’s nods to Guip as they finished tunes with a decided flourish, was indicative of a humble generosity. And that in turn spoke volumes of the deceptive strength of this quartet’s music initial inklings of which intensity arose when Williams threw herself into “Samson and Delilah,” foreshadowing abiding an passion to come that so thoroughly warmed a crowd before its exit into a blustery winter night.

Special Thanks to Will Solomon for the setlist

Live photos courtesy Ross Mickel Bootleggers Beware

*****

SETLIST

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams

Higher Ground Showcase Lounge

Thurs 11/15/18

 

Wishing Well

Surrender to Love

The Other Side of Pain

You’re Running Wild

Everybody Loves You

Save Me From Myself

Caravan

Turn Around

Samson and Delilah

You’ll Never Again Be Mine

Poor Old Dirt Farmer

When I Stop Loving You

It Ain’t Gonna Be A Good Night

Did You Love Me At All

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning

E: Death Don’t Have No Mercy

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