Monday, July 27, 2009

Levon Helm - Electric Dirt (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard Records, 2009)

Singer and former drummer for the legendary rock 'n' roll group The Band, Levon Helm releases his second solo album in as many years, filled with energy and renewed optimism after a successful recovery from throat cancer. Helm's solo music continues the country fused Americana music he made with his former group. He is joined by an excellent crew of musicians including Larry Campbell, who acts as a straw boss for the whole affair. Opening with the old Grateful Dead chestnut "Tennessee Jed" the group mines a deep country-rock sound that is laid back and soulful. Female harmony singers join in to take up any slack Helm might have after his illness, but there's not much, he still sounds deeply soulful. The group digs deep into the blues as well, covering Muddy Waters' "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" and Pops Staples "Move Along Train" catching a deep and gutsy groove and riding it for all they are worth. The highlight of the album for me came with the impressive Helm/Campbell original, "Growin' Trade," a harrowing tale of a farmer who is willing to fight for his family farm no matter the cost. Happy Traum's beautiful "Golden Bird" features an extraordinary vocal performance by Helm on a supremely haunting song about greed and loss. There's a timelessness to the music presented here, which is deeply connected to the rich southern soil that gave the world the great American musics of blues, country and rock 'n' roll. Helm taps into this great vein of Americana and mines it for some excellent music. Now if we could just hook him up with that other Americana master, Bill Frisell, how cool would that be?
Electric Dirt -

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