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Levon Helm: Electric Dirt

[cover art]

Levon Helm paints another masterpiece with Electric Dirt, a wider angle on the panorama of Southern life he began with last year's Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer [Electric Dirt won Levon his second Grammy in January 2010, as Americana album of the year], This time, the most musical drummer in the game is joined by a lineup including producer/ multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, keyboard wizard Brian Mitchell, a choir of soulful voices including daughter Amy, son-in-law Jay Collins, and Campbell's wife Teresa Williams, and the hottest horn line anywhere. Together they provide a rich canvas for Helm's resuscitated voice with production ranging from minimalist to magnificent. On Happy Traum's "Golden Bird," Helm's solo voice duets with Campbell's plaintive fiddle until the band joins softly verse by verse, building to a moving finale. "The Growing Trade," by Campbell/ Helm, is a modern-day farmer's lament sent up on strings, piano and exquisite harmonies. They have fun with the Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed" and Muddy Waters' "Stuff Ya Gotta Watch," a vampy, bluesier version than the one The Band included on their 1993 comeback record, Jericho. Mardi Gras horns arranged by Allen Toussaint and Steven Bernstein goose up Randy Newman's "King Fish," a salute to the politics of Louisiana, where Helm has left some skin. He harmonizes elegantly with his dusky-voiced daughter on "Heaven's Pearls," written by Ollabelle's Byron Isaacs, the record's bassist. There's enough gospel to feel like country church, starting slow with Pop Staples' "Move Along Train," and peaking when Helm lets loose and wails on "When I Go Away." Campbell wrote the song for the Dixie Hummingbirds but Helm makes it his own. "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free" is raised to the rafters by the glorious Catherine Russell. At the crossroads of family ties and musical brilliance, Helm has found The Band of his dreams.

--Kay Cordtz, Elmore Magazine, June 2009


(click song titles to listen)
  1. Tennessee Jed (Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter)
  2. Move Along Train (Roebuck Staples)
  3. Growing Trade (Levon Helm, Larry Campbell)
  4. Golden Bird (Happy Traum)
  5. Stuff You Gotta Watch (Muddy Waters)
  6. White Dove (Carter Stanley)
  7. Kingfish (Randy Newman)
  8. You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had (Muddy Waters)
  9. When I Go Away (Larry Campbell)
  10. Heaven's Pearls (Anthony Leone, Byron Isaacs, Fiona McBain, Amy Helm, Glenn Patscha)
  11. I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free (Richard Carroll Lamp, Willy E. Taylor)
  12. That's Alright*
  13. Ashes of Love*
*: iTunes bonus tracks

Levon Helm - Electric Dirt - 2009 - Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard 798612

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