In Autumn 2019, after months of touring, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams returned to their adopted hometown in Woodstock, NY to celebrate with two sold out performances on September 20 and 21 at Levon Helm Studios. Both shows were multi-tracked and are now being released as their latest album, Live At Levon’s! A jubilant 12-track collection, the acclaimed husband and wife duo, backed by an ace band, offer a compelling mix of fan favorites (“Surrender To Love,” “When I Stop Loving You,” “It Ain’t Gonna Be A Goodnight”), previously unreleased songs (“Angel Of Darkness,” “Big River,” “Let Us Get Together”), plus some unexpected covers (“Caravan,” “Darling Be Home Soon,” “Old Dangerfield”).
Ask any musician who’s played Levon Helm Studios and they will tell you it’s a hallowed space where musical magic occurs on the regular. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams know this better than most. They are intimately familiar and at ease in the room having played countless shows there with the Midnight Ramble Band, an outfit fronted by Helm with whom Campbell served as a bandleader for over a decade. Joining Campbell and Williams for these homecoming shows were some longtime friends and stellar musicians: Jesse Murphy appears on bass, tuba and harmony vocals providing a rock-solid foundation, while offering his skills as a gifted improviser. Justin Guip has held the drummer’s chair with Campbell and Williams since their earliest shows and has recorded and mixed all their albums since their self-titled debut. Special guest, Levon Helm alumnus, Brian Mitchell rounds out the group on keyboards, accordion and harmonica.
Campbell, Williams and their band have a reputation for a high level of musicality that’s in full display on Live at Levon’s! with warmth, joy and spontaneity jumping out of the album’s grooves. The energy between the band and the adoring hometown crowd can be felt throughout. No matter which genre they’re swimming in, the ensemble knows how to rock, swing and shred, while always serving the song first. Campbell, a world class guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who in addition to his time with Helm has served as Bob Dylan’s guitarist, reveals himself as a songwriting force, while Williams’ vocal performances offer up her trademark fragility and ferocity, as she interprets each lyric with emotional nuance and raw honesty.
“This thing that Teresa and I do, though born on the back porch in Tennessee, was honed for public consumption during the wonderful years we spent making music in Levon’s barn,” explains Campbell. “There’s magic between those wooden walls, a comfortable environment where there’s no distance between performer and audience. Any event in there is a complete communal experience where there’s no hierarchy, no pressure or attempt at inhibition, just a great place to enjoy all the benefits of music making. When the idea came up for us to do a live record there was no question as to what the venue should be.”
“I’ll never forget the first time I experienced performing as a child and knew my lot in life was set. The only reason I am a singer is because of the indefinable spark that happens with the giving and receiving of your most intimate selves, back and forth, between the artist on stage and the audience there in the room,” adds Williams. “If I can’t see the audience because of lighting, it almost becomes even more spiritual, because it’s all just feeling them — us together in the moment. And each performance/audience has its own personality. If you can drop the thinking and just ‘be’ with them and this sharing of your most intimate selves, there’s no describing the transcendence. Recording is only an excuse to get to bring the material to a live audience.”
Live At Levon’s! was intended to be the cornerstone for big plans that had been made for the following year. The pandemic of course changed everything, globally and close to home. After performing at New York’s Beacon Theatre, Campbell woke up on March 16, 2020 in Woodstock coughing and feverish. Following a diagnosis of Covid, he was left to quarantine alone while Williams was stuck quarantined and worrying in New York City. A couple of harrowing weeks later, Larry’s fever broke. “For the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling to stay alive,” Campbell told Rolling Stone at the time.
Fast forward to Autumn 2022. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams are once again performing ‘live and in person’ and the plans for 2020 have been reimagined for 2023. They’ll tour extensively throughout the year to support Live at Levon’s!, which serves as a welcome reminder of the duo’s powerful live shows.
In Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams’ Amazon series It Was the Music, when asked about performing onstage, R&B legend William Bell reflects: “When they come to see a show, take ‘em to another place.” Live at Levon’s! does just that, and Campbell and Williams hope that you enjoy the journey.
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