Whether you’re in desperate need for a bluesy break-up album that’ll finally kick out those tears you’ve been trying to shed, or you’re ready for a collection of tunes that’ll get you revved up for a weekend at your local dive bar, Contraband Love, the latest effort from the Americana power couple that is Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, is just the thing.
There’s anger and revenge (“It Ain’t Gonna Be a Good Night”), sadness and confusion over why a lover has gone away (“My Sweetie Went Away”), and a deep understanding – and the peace that comes with it – that you can’t control or fix anyone other than yourself (“Contraband Love”).
The duo’s trademark vocal harmonies are in fine form on Contraband Love: rather than a careful melding of two very different voices, theirs is a crash of sound that, more often than not, works to effectively convey some hard-learned life lessons.
As Williams powerfully belts out thoughtful words of love and loss (“The Other Side of Pain,” for example), Campbell’s grit-filled waver searches (and usually finds) the harmonic counterpoint. The result of this less-than-slick production is undeniably human; it’s the sound of two voices who’ve been around the block a few times and who are very, very comfortable with their capabilities.
And, speaking of musical capabilities, the husband-wife duo worked for years as supporting musicians for Levon Helm. He shows up on the album, too – check out a cover of the Carl Perkins’ tune “Turn Around” for the drum sounds captured at one of Helm’s last recording sessions.
Campbell and Williams are at their most effective when they’re just letting the music happen. The laidback and mellow groove of “The Wishing Well” and “Slidin Delta” makes you want to keep listening – they’re storytellers, really, more than anything else. And good ones, at that.
At other times, however, their voices seem almost forced in their intensity (“Three Days in a Row”). Though – maybe that’s the point. The themes of addiction, loss, anxiety and resolution ARE certainly intense, after all. And those themes are themes the duo explores in Contraband Love, although, as Campbell said in a recent interview, it wasn’t a conscious decision to write songs around these themes…it just kind of happened.
What didn’t just happen is the duo’s shared love of music south of the Mason-Dixon line. And you hear that love – and respect – for the music shining through on each track of Contraband Love.