Dirt Farmer

This collection sees Levon return to his roots to reinterpret classic songs from his childhood and pay homage to those who influenced him along the way.

As the only American in The Band, Levon Helm’s stories of rural Arkansas were the source material for the music many consider the touchstone for modern Americana (albeit refracted through the prism of Canadian Robbie Robertson’s songwriting). This collection sees Levon return to those roots to reinterpret classic songs from his childhood and pay homage to those who influenced him along the way.

The robust vocals that hollered ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ at The Last Waltz have been replaced by more fragile tones due to rigorous treatments for aggressive throat cancer, but the voice that remains is impressively solid. Angelic harmonies courtesy of daughter Amy and Teresa Williams provide any necessary bolstering. Dylan sidekick and Midnight Ramble veteran Larry Campbell contributes the bulk of the guitar, mandolin and fiddle work, proving himself an invaluable ally.

In addition to standards by The Stanley Brothers and JB Lenoir, Steve Earle’s ‘The Mountain’ is beautifully reworked as Levon doffs his cap to ‘a great American music maker.’

The ghost of The Band looms large as many of these songs could have come straight from the basement of Big Pink. The lilting violin and melodic swing of ‘The Poor Old Dirt Farmer’ are reminiscent of ‘Evangeline’ and the honky-tonk of ‘Single Girl, Married Girl’ echo ‘Ophelia’.

Dedicated to his parents, this confection is also a paean to his southern heritage and the people and places that shaped him.

On ‘Wide River To Cross’ he sings: “I’ve come a long, long road/But still I’ve got some miles to go”

Let’s hope there are more songs to share on the rest of his journey.

 

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