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[Levon Helm & the Barn Burners]

by Emily Blunt

Copied from the Emily Blunt review site. Copyright © 2000 Blunt Review All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author.

A night of down and dirty, shakin'- roots- rock- and roll- kick ass- blues.



Whew. I showed up late for a legend's show the other night-luckily, he too was late. I'm talking about Levon Helm. A drummer who has jammed with some of the uber-talents known to music. He's a chewing tobacco type - down home country boy. Been beating the skins a while. Helm's best known for his lifetime role in The Band. Hopefully, you know who they are... (But one of my readers actually had never heard a Who song- so, I don't assume anymore. Sad world)

When I heard Helm joined up with The Barn Burners- I just had to check them out. I always say, trust the Keebler Elves for that -time- of- the month sugar fix, Kevin Spacey for intelligence on film, and Levon Helm for audio enjoyment.

I was not disappointed.

In fact not since the annual "Buck Owens' Birthday Bash" at the Continental in Austin, had I had talent catapulted at me by a more "together" group of musicians simply in love with the music they were belting out.

Lead by an intensely talented muscular mansteak of a lad, Chris O'Leary The Barn Burners ripped through the two sets without breaking a sweat. O'Leary lended smooth vocals and stylized harp to every tune.

Their music resonated of yesteryears' Blue's virtuosos. Honest and straight forward, with good old fashioned down deep soul ringing through their Fender amps.

The Blues is simple music by design, but placed in the appropriate hands metamorphosis' into a complex beast of musical infusions. These were definitely the right hands. Though the legend Helm sat quietly pounding away in the background, the boys in front let the audience know they weren't hitch hiking on the curtails of grandpa. They smoked the place down.

That audience was mixed with Band fans and curious music lovers. They all warmed up completely to let the new breed of players titillate them for the eve. Dale Watson, Kasey Chambers and now The Burn Burners- these are the folks to look for in your smaller talent driven venues about town. It wont be long before their into the bigtime- ALA Lucinda Williams -I'm guessing.

With all the musical crap we've had force fed to us for the past few years, there are still a strong handful of mighty realists tearing down the walls of Jerico (<-sneaky pun) and rockin' on through. They're pulverising the musky commercial molds and resuscitating the roots of rock and roll blues; filling it's sadly emaciated lungs with a fresh soulful air. The Barn Burners are on that paramedic team.

Blues' familiar classics from the likes of Muddy Waters were infused with O'Leary's own penned pieces, as if the two could have been conceived in the same era. Connoisseurs of the genre will enjoy their set list.

Guitarist Pat O'Shea, also swell on the retina in a Baby Face Malone kind of way, danced about with one of those automatically sexy accessory pieces- the Carl Perkins Style guitar. A guitar that screams when stroked properly-he made her scream! Switching between guitars he didn't miss a beat. What a pleasure to see it done right again.

Amy Helm (daughter of Levon and stand alone talent) peeked out from behind the keys and sang a little with O'Leary. A hearty voice with an animated stage style handed down from pappa. Anyone familiar with Helm the Elder's performance quirks and facial skews will pick up on budding Amy's mannerisms. I'm not complaining. No siree Bob. I would have liked to see even more of her. It's nice when second generation entertainers are actually talented, huh?

Bobby Keys, guest sax-on-the stage (and old Band mate) did his usual smooth ticklings. Effortless musicianship.

The back beat, Frankie Ingroa, along with Levon, ran through the place like a train late for noon day mail call. Tight and perfect. Frankie seemed to be having a blast. The whole show felt as though a group of talented friends were jamming at your uncle Rick's for the fall reunion.

An aside rant: I wish folks would let musicians grow. I speak of Levon Helm. The Barn Burners who get second billing under his legendary moniker- really don't need him. I mean "name dropping" wise.( It may actually hurt more than help, what with his past being such a strong part of musical history) But you think after he's been rockin' with us for over 40 something years "Helm's people" would wanna check out what he's up to. The audience was maddeningly thin. Argh, the public.

Ya'all look 'em up in your paper. It aint The Band , but man it's a BAND!

Check them out in these areas and check here for future gigs.

11/21 Lake Buena Vista, FL House of Blues
11/20 Lake Buena Vista, FL House of Blues
12/02 New York, NY Chicago B.L.U.E.S.
12/01 New York, NY Chicago B.L.U.E.S.
02/01 San Diego, CA Croce's Top Hat
01/27 New Braunfels, TX Gruene Hall
01/26 Houston, TX Mucky Duck
p01/25 Dallas, TX Blue Cat Blues

Chris O'Leary has promised to "catch up" when their CD's released in spring. Then we'll get a chance to cyberview the man. That sounds devilishly delicious, no?

--Emily Blunt

Pictures "borrowed" from the same Band site from various BB fans. "Snapshot art" by Erika Bolin

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