Tuesday, January 22, 2008
A Larry Campbell Kind Of Ramble
By: David Schultz
Larry Campbell has long reigned as one of the preeminent sidemen in rock and roll, playing alongside such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh and Levon Helm. Having seen Campbell play numerous times alongside many of the greats, it was a real treat to see his name above the ampersand as Larry Campbell & Friends played an open admission show in Greenwich Village as part of the New York Guitar Festival. The Apple Store may have seemed like an odd venue for the venerated multi-instrumentalist; at least until you got there. The intimate second floor theater, which has some of the coziest seats found outside of Radio City Music Hall, proved to be a marvelous venue to see (and hear) Campbell practice his craft.
Accompanied by Lincoln Schleifer on the standup bass, Campbell opened his set with a couple “country rags.” After the two finished their impressive but hardly showoffey fretwork gymnastics, Campbell brought out the rest of the band: his wife, Teresa Williams, Ollabelle’s Amy Helm and as a surprise guest, her father Levon. In a slight bit of irony, the largest round of applause at the Guitar Festival event went to the beloved drummer. Flanked by Ms. Williams and Ms. Helm, Campbell led his band of Midnight Ramble veterans through a very nice mix of country style tunes that included a brilliant original, “Did You Ever Love Me,” and touched upon Carl Perkins and George Jones.
Williams, who has a Grand Ole Opry quality voice, also plays a pretty mean guitar. With the younger Helm playing mandolin and Campbell playing guitar, the three kicked up a nice little acoustic dust storm. Even when surrounded by two lovely ladies, it was hard to take your eyes off of Campbell’s guitar work: he really does wonders with the instrument. Playing resonator guitar on Helm’s smoldering cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” Campbell brought an enormous country feel to the song without losing one iota of its soul; a perfect example of interpreting an iconic song and transforming it without losing the elements that make it great.
Campbell tipped his cap towards Lesh by playing “Attics Of My Life,” his favorite Grateful Dead tune. Needing only the sparse of accompaniment of Schleifer’s doleful bass and Campbell’s simple strumming, Williams and Helm wrenched every bit of aching loveliness out of the tune and showed how spellbinding the song can be when sung by true singers. With no drum part to play, Levon closed his eyes and seemed as enraptured with the song as the audience. Speaking of the elder Helm, he really seemed to enjoy his role as the “anonymous” drummer. At the end of many songs, he and Schleifer bore the mischievous grins of rascals as they seemed to look for what trouble they could possibly stir up. His night though would not be spent entirely behind his simple drum kit. For the encore, father and daughter traded places and with Amy playing drums, Helm picked up the mandolin and finished the night with a hearty version of “Got Me A Woman” from his Grammy nominated album, The Dirt Farmer.
Last night's show was one of the handful of free shows that are part of this year’s New York Guitar Festival. Played amidst the high priced electronics and iPODs, Campbell's li'l ramble may likely turn out to be Apple's best bargain ever.
Thanks for the review!