Music Reviews
Levon Helm

Levon Helm

Electric Dirt

Vanguard Records/Dirt Farmer Music

For being in the music business since the age of 17, Levon Helm sure has run through the musical gamut, from studio country musician, to drummer of one of the most iconic bands of the 1970s, to solo artist, to cancer survivor and now to country revivalist. On his latest Electric Dirt, Levon Helm sounds like a combination of Ralph Stanley and Cletus T. Judd fronting Old Crow Medicine Show. The album is a good ol’ down-home hoedown complete with everything that he has picked up over the years.

On the opener “Tennessee Jed,” Helm brings the brass as he proclaims that “We drink all day and we rock all night.” The brass sticks around for the Randy Newman cover “Kingfish,” which sounds like it would be right at home on the soundtrack to Toy Story 3. “Stuff You Gotta Watch” is Helm at his finest, delivering the Muddy Waters blues classic with the more grit than any “you done me wrong” song that a country station has spun this decade. On the gospel-infused “When I Go Away,” Helm sounds like he’s exorcising the demons that caused the cancer in his vocal chords which silenced him at the beginning of the 21st century, proclaiming that there will be “No more cryin’.”

Levon Helm’s voice is weathered and is starting to sound more and more like he’s been singing, writing, and recording for over four decades. The former drummer of The Band, Helm has continued to keep himself busy, releasing solo albums in between Band reunions. His last album Dirt Farmer (his first solo album in 25 years) and Electric Dirt bring Helm full circle, back to his old-school country roots. (He worked with Conway Twitty when he was just 17 in the late 1950s.) With the infusion of blues, gospel, jazz and rock, Helm is forming a sound that artists will imitate for decades to come, but no one will be like the original.

Levon Helm:

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