Levon Helm ELECTRIC DIRT LP Review Download

00:03 Download November 29th, -0001

ELECTRIC DIRT (just out in June) is the fairly immediate follow up to 2007’s DIRT FARMER album from Levon Helm. For a guy whose last studio LP was done in 1982, that’s quick succession. Even more so for a guy who just started singing again in 2004 after an almost fatal bout of throat cancer that left him without a voice. It’s a tad ironic that his loss of voice actually helped him find his again. Levon needed to raise money for his medical bills and started presenting “Roots Rambles” at his Woodstock NY home/barn/studio. These hootenannies attracted many of Levon’s musical friends and initially, he sat behind his drums and let the others sing. Gradually, his voice started coming back and he started singing again.

Good thing for all of us! He got a renewal on life and we get some fantastic post-Band performances here. In THIS band there are many multi-instrumentalists, including his producer Larry Campbell. There are keyboards and fidlles and mandolins and accordions. There’s even a horn section that shows up on a couple of songs. Levon’s daughter Amy and producer Campbell’s wife Teresa Williams add the perfect backing vocal touches that slide from slattern to Sunday morning church. And Levon’s drumming snaps and crackles. He’s one singing drummer that still sits behind the kit for most of the show.

And his voice still works! Works real good as a matter of fact. It’s like a tough piece of gristle (come to think of it, HE is too!) You won’t find a lot of vocal nuancing here and he doesn’t use any of them fancy studio tricks that enhance his singing abilities (as so many of your favorite pop stars do!) The voice of Levon Helm, even without the corraborating words, conjures up red dirt. Exhaustion picking cotton all day out in the fields. A furrowed brow when a mule goes sick. Sitting on a crumbling porch with a good dog. This is the sound of Americana that all the rest of them strive for. He comes by it honestly too. I mean he grew up in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas! How much more authentic does it get?

The songs here are culled from various sources: “Move Along Train” from The Staples Singers”, “Tennessee Jed” from The Dead, “Kingfish” from Randy Newman and a couple from McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters. There’s gospel, blues and soul in abundance.

As a follow-up to the acoustic based DIRT FARMER, the intention here was to plug in and amp it up. To give it more of the loose raucous Roots Ramble live experience feel. ELECTRIC DIRT does that upstate NY “Barn” proud. Levon has found his voice again.

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