Last time we visited Rochester, Uncle Lance gave me a copy of the Levon Helm autobiography, ‘This Wheel’s on Fire‘, so I figure it’s high time I listen to some Levon Helm, starting with this recent acquisition which also happens to come from Uncle Lance as well, the ‘Electric Dirt‘ album by the man himself, Levon Helm.
This album represents Helm’s final studio album recorded in his person studio in Woodstock, NY and released in 2009. It is the follow-up to his Grammy-winning 2007 album ‘Dirt Farmer’. In Uncut ’s list of the 150 best albums between 2000 until 2009, ‘Electric Dirt’ was listed 80th and it won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, an inaugural category in 2010. That shouldn’t really surprise anyone seeing as how Helm has been backing guys like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, John Martyn, Rufus Wainwright, and literally dozens of others.
While ‘Dirt Farmer‘ leaned toward acoustic music in the Appalachian tradition, ‘Electric Dirt‘ aims for a broader and more eclectic sound; ‘Golden Bird‘ sounds as if it could have been gleaned from the Harry Smith anthology, but the opening cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Tennessee Jed‘ swings with a solid New Orleans groove like an outtake from the Rock of Ages concerts, a pair of Muddy Waters numbers are subtle but passionate acoustic blues, ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free‘ is joyous gospel-infused R&B, and ‘White Dove’ is fervent and heartfelt traditional country. ‘Move Along Train‘ is pretty sweet too with backing vocals being provided by Teresa Williams. And though Helm only wrote two songs for this album, they’re two good ones, especially ‘Growin’ Trade’, a tale of an aging farmer who has taken to raising marijuana, and what could easily have been played as a joke is a moving account of one man’s conscience as it wrestles with his heritage and love of the land.
HRH likes the album’s cover and I can’t blame her. It’s pretty cool too.