Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Stanley Johnson and Richard Brody
Rain, and the threat of additional rain, may have diminished the turnout, but nothing could dampen the joyful sounds of Maria Muldaur together with the Campbell Brothers on a recent summer Sunday night in Schenectady’s Central Park.
Muldaur, whose career began at roughly the same time and place as Bob Dylan’s, has been prolific and eclectic. The Campbell Brothers, based in Rochester, have carried the sacred steel tradition into the 21st century, oddly to the dismay of some of their church brethren, with several fine recordings and tours with the Slide Brothers and Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Recently Muldaur and the Campbell Brothers joined forces for a collaboration they’re calling “Spirit & the Blues,” and their free concert at the Music Haven was their public performance debut, but one would never know that based on quality of the over dozen songs performed at the Music Haven stage.
Opening instrumental, “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” introduced the Campbell Brothers band perfectly. Darick Bennett (bass) and Carlton Campbell (drums) established a stomping Stax Records feel to the rhythm; Phil Campbell played piercing electric guitar; Chuck Campbell (pedal steel) and Darick Campbell (lap steel) traded fills and solos like keen parables offered up in a sermon.
Wavering high notes by the steel players gave an instrumental take on the Civil Rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come” an uncanny vocal semblance to its composer, Sam Cooke.
Muldaur, tambourines in hand, made her way to center stage. Brushing back her thick black curls and slapping her hip, she joked that anybody who wanted her picture would be better served by putting their camera away and looking online for photos from earlier in her career. While her voice had some initially rough edges to it, she sang a spirited take on the Chamber Brothers’ “Get Up, Get Ready to Go Back Home.” Her repertoire was wide-ranging – the next three songs came from Elvin Bishop, Allen Toussaint and the Staple Singers, respectively. An instrumental performance of “Amazing Grace” gave Muldaur a chance to catch her breath and watch an extraordinary band of brothers at work.
Back to the microphone, Muldaur spoke briefly about working with her good friend Bonnie Raitt a few years ago on the next song, Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “It’s a Blessing.” The concert’s lone selection played without the rhythm section, voice and guitars merged into one, and the phrasing of the infinitives “to live…to give…to be present” summed up the gratitude of all on stage. The rhythm section came roaring back in full force with a strong second-line pattern by Darick and Carlton underscored the joy of “Somebody Was Watching over Me,” a fine platform for Chuck’s pedal steel to keen and soar, and Maria to testify like a preacher on a mission in the coda.
Muldaur introduced Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” as both “a song for world peace and peace of mind in the form of romance.” Aptly, Muldaur’s impassioned vocals and extemporizing on the need for love in the world coincided with a brief increase in the rain falling in the park.
The recently released album Beyond the Four Walls is a masterwork in the Campbell Brothers’ canon. Perhaps the best song on the album, “Hell No, Heaven Yes” got quite an airing. Phil Campbell, though seated, sang like he was standing at the pulpit in a gruff, friendly baritone about the Golden Rule and the redemptive powers of faith. Chuck’s pedal steel’s oscillating tone seemed to comment like a chorus, and the faithful who had braved the soggy evening were standing and clapping along.
Muldaur ambled back out, confessing that she had a “cheat sheet” in hand, for a rocking rendition of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Drawn from her 2011 Steady Love album, “Walk by Faith” exuded a Meters/Little Feat vibe, making the refrain “walk by faith/ not by sight” indelible. The closing pair of tunes, “Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down” and “Morning Train,” showcased everybody’s prowess on stage, with numerous high energy moments of voice and instrument. Hearing Chuck and Darick Campbell, in particular, play their sacred steels as darkness fell in the Music Haven brought to mind what Jimi Hendrix once said: “Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
NOTE: Maria Muldaur returns to Nippertown at 7:30pm on Wednesday, August 28 at The Egg in Albany for a reunion concert of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in celebration of their 50th anniversary. Tickets are $34.50.
MARIA MULDAUR & THE CAMPBELL BROTHERS SET LIST
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around (Campbells only)
A Change Is Gonna Come (Campbells only)
Get Up, Get Ready
I’ll Be Glad
The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest
Amazing Grace (Campbells only)
It’s a Blessing
Somebody Was Watching Over Me
Please Send Me Someone to Love
Hell No, Heaven Yes (Campbells only)
Gotta Serve Somebody
Walk by Faith
Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down