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Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Contraband Love – 2017 (Red House)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Larry Campbell and Teresa Campbell could have been content to retain their status as musicians on call, given the fact that they've loaned their services to any number of high profile employers -- Bob Dylan, Rosanne Cash, Mavis Staples, Levon Helm, Little Feat, Shawn Colvin and Phil Lesh among them. Instead, they've built themselves a solid reputation, one that qualifies them as one of contemporary country's most resourceful and respected musical duos.

While some of those associates repay the favor on the couple's "Contraband Love"- Helm himself makes one of his final appearances on Carl Perkins' classic "Turn Around," while Little Feat's Bill Payne tickles the ivories practically everywhere - Williams and Campbell assert themselves in the spotlight. The cover's antebellum imagery notwithstanding, this is a tough and tenacious set of songs. "You live like you're never gonna die/Dancing on a wire 10 stories high," they proclaim on the title track, hinting at the malaise that lingers just below the surface. Indeed, the majority of the material focuses on the subject of addiction, hardly the stuff that empowers commercial credence, but which contributes a powerful presence to the task at hand regardless.

That theme is decidedly delivered through "Three Days In a Row," "It Ain't Gonna Be a Good Night" and "The Other Side of Pain," songs describing dire circumstance while resonating with furious determination. For her part, Williams plays the role of the compassionate comforter, and her spotlight role on "Turn Around" and "Save Me From Myself" offer a reassuring respite from the stormier songs of the set. They anchor the material with a stoic sensibility that's both purposeful and persevering. Even the obvious heartbreak of "My Sweetie Went Away" seems mitigated through Williams' winsome delivery.

In the end, "Contaminated Love" offers a warning about the consequence of lives lived in turmoil, doing so with a clarity and conviction that's strikingly convincing. Give Campbell and Williams for their willingness to lay it on the line.