Levon Helm: Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

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Levon Helm: The Mountain
Levon Helm: Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

If anyone has won the right to sings songs of life on hard scrabble farms it is Levon Helm, the former drummer/singer/mandolin player in the Band who grew up on a cotton farm near a town called Turkey Scratch in Arkansas.

His group -- called for a time Levon and the Hawks -- backed Ronnie Hawkins, linked up with Bob Dylan and became simply The Band.

Many consider Helm the authentic voice and soul of that group, and certainly he sang on some of their most memorable and earthy material such as The Weight, Up On Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

After the Band split he played a part in Coal Miner's Daughter as Loretta Lynn's father, a part which was hardly a stretch for him as he is a genuine son of the soil himself. Which makes this album of country-blues, aching folk ballads and a sense of old time spirituality so convincing.

Now 67 and a survivor of throat cancer, Helm has made the best solo album of his career and to help him he has some fine company: longtime Dylan guitarist/fiddle player Larry Campbell, his daughter Amy (who co-produced the album with Campbell) and Brian Mitchell on piano.

With songs by Julie and Buddy Miller, Steve Earle and Paul Kennerley alongside traditional songs Helm grew up with, this is a moving, must-hear for anyone who enjoyed the Band at their most rural or Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and its offshoots.

 

This won best traditional folk album in the Grammys held in February 2008

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