Larry and Teresa Campbell have been together long enough that certain details of their married life get blurred. Before introducing the opening track from their debut album, the New York born guitarist mentioned that his wife didn’t remember that the first words she said to him were those of the title of “Surrender to Love.” The singer from West Tennessee dismissed it with a shrug and one song later introduced the old Louvin Brothers song, correcting the record that what she really said to him is “you’re running wild.”
“You’re Running Wild” was the first song they sang together and one he included on a mix tape when he courted her nearly three decades ago. Sometimes Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams’ acoustic show felt like a relationship encounter as much as a concert. When Campbell introduced “Another One More Time” by asking if there were any jaded lovers in the audience, someone quickly spoke up from a table by the stage, saying, “We’re all jaded.”
But their visit to Annapolis was more like a roots music seminar as the couple mixed original songs from their debut album with those from Merle Watson, Johnny Cash, the Reverend Gary Davis and the Carter Family–all stripped down from their own touring band and the likes of Levon Helm, Hot Tuna, Furthur and Phil Lesh & Friends, all of whom that the couple has sat in with over the years.
Tonight was like “Larry & Teresa Unplugged,” with the pop bounce of “Ain’t Nobody But Me” and “Bad Luck Charm” stripped down to just two guitars and their playful and robust harmonies. In her showcase performance of “Another One More Time,” she summoned the best of the Seventies singer-songwriter era in what could as easily been a signature song then as now. In “Did You Love Me At All,” she delivered the harrowing song and all of its melancholy splendidly against its underlying ruefulness. A veteran of music theater, she sent us back to church in the Carter Family’s “You’ve Gotta Right That Wrong.” If she didn’t quite break glass, she gave a stunning vocal display, holding a note for at least twenty seconds.
If Campbell’s virtuosity as an instrumentalist comes across almost casually, it’s probably because he’s so understated. But it came full display on a cover of “Blind Mary” written in the 1600’s by the ancient Celtic harpist O’Carolyn. He masterfully expressed the musical language of longing and sorrow, conjuring an array of emotions that were left to interpretation and imagination. On “Everybody Loves You,” in which Campbell’s fingerpicking sounds like he’s playing two guitars at once, he broke into somewhat of stomp while she bopped form side to side and the audience was brought alive to cheers.
Introducing “The Texas Crapshooter,” Campbell shared that he had learned the tune on the fiddle from Bobby Hicks, the great player with Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs. Thinking that the “old rag” would be great on the guitar, he said it was worth doing for the title alone. In the homage to one of his heroes Doc Watson, he played it through with his wife in the role of Merle Watson. The venue’s intimacy felt even more so when he recounted the story of how Hank Williams had left behind some unfinished songs and together, with Levon Helm, he was able to complete “You’ll Never Again Be Me.”
Being a mixed North-South marriage, inevitably the question came up if the couple were really in the South. Campbell shared that being from New York he was somewhat mystified by certain southern expressions.” “I can’t fix to do anything,” the island-born player confessed of certain Southern traditions. Before he fixed to do any more damage with his stage counterpart and spouse from Peckerwood, Tennessee, they segued into “Samson & Delilah,” one of two classics in the Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson canon. Like the set’s foreboding closer “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” Williams belted it out and reached back to fill the club as easily as if she were she on a Broadway stage.
Bringing it all back home during two encores, the couple sang “Long Black Veil,” the song her father had taught her at home and one she played on the guitar given to her by Levon Helm. They ended the night with an emotional reading of “Your Long Journey,” one of Campbell’s favorites written by Doc and Rosalie Watson.
When Campbell used to play with Buddy Miller in New York back in the Eighties, he sat at pedal steel behind Miller and singer Shawn Colvin as they led the band through “You’re Running Wild.” Someday, Campbell thought to himself, he too would find himself a pretty girl to sing the song with. Tonight seemed as good as any time to remember this. In doing so it was with a tip of the hat to the Louvin Brothers without whom we might not all be gathered on a week night in Annapolis.