In a musical career that has spanned six decades, Levon Helm has made more than a few excellent albums working with other folks -- most notably as drummer and vocalist with the Band, as well as backing Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, John Martyn, Rufus Wainwright, and literally dozens of others. But as a solo artist, Helm's record has been considerably spottier, with well-intended disappointments outnumbering genuine successes, so it's good to report that at the age of 69, Helm has found his second wind as a recording artist, cutting two of his most satisfying solo sets in a row. Following 2007's excellent Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt is every bit as impressive and finds him sounding even stronger than he did on that comeback set. Dirt Farmer was Helm's first album after a bout with throat cancer nearly silenced him, and his vocals sounded firmly committed but just a bit strained; two years on, Helm's voice is nearly as supple as it was during his days with the Band, and even when it shows signs of wear and tear, his sense of phrasing and his ability to bring the characters in these songs to life are as good as they've ever been. 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. Larry Campbell, who co-produced Dirt Farmer, returned for these sessions, as did most of the same band, bringing a similarly organic touch to the music, and the bigger sound of this album seems to suit everyone involved, with Helm's drumming sounding especially lively and well-grounded. 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. Not unlike his old buddy Bob Dylan from Time Out of Mind onward, Levon Helm seems to have rediscovered his knack for making great records in what some might have imagined would be the latter days of his career; Electric Dirt sounds fresh, emphatic, and as effective as anything Levon has cut since the mid-'70s, and one can only hope he has a few more discs in him just this good.
Performance CreditsLevon Helm Primary Artist,Mandolin,Drums,Vocals
Howard Johnson Tuba
Larry Campbell Dulcimer,Acoustic Guitar,Fiddle,Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals,Guitar (Resonator),Vocal Harmony
Clark Gayton Trombone,Tuba
Brian Mitchell Organ,Piano,Accordion,Harmonium
George Recile Background Vocals
Catherine Russell Vocals,Guest Appearance
Jay Collins Tenor Saxophone,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Jimmy Vivino Organ,Electric Guitar
Steven Bernstein Trumpet,Cornet,Alto Horn
Teresa Williams Acoustic Guitar,Autoharp,Vocal Harmony
Brian John Mitchell Organ,Piano,Accordion,Harmonium
Amy Helm Mandolin,Bass Drums,Vocal Harmony
Byron Isaacs Bass,Background Vocals
George Receli Background Vocals
Erik Lawrence Baritone Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone
Technical CreditsHappy Traum Composer
Jerry Garcia Composer
Randy Newman Composer
Robert Hunter Composer
Roebuck "Pops" Staples Composer
Larry Campbell Arranger,Composer,Producer,Horn Arrangements
Justin Guip Engineer
Levon Helm Arranger,Composer
Rich Lamb Composer
Muddy Waters Composer
Carter Stanley Composer
Allen Toussaint Arranger,Horn Arrangements
Georgette Cartwright Creative Services Coordinator
Glenn Patscha Composer
Steven Bernstein Arranger,Horn Arrangements
Amy Helm Composer
Byron Isaacs Composer
Fiona McBain Composer
Michael Dubois Artwork
Levon Helm Band Horn Arrangements
William E. Taylor Composer
Anthony Leone Composer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Electric Dirt based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Fans of The Band, or just fans of good ol' timey country will love this album. Dirt Farmer is still my favorite, but Electric Dirt is wonderful! I've worked in a band with Levon's nephew Terry Cagle, and that's how I really began to love The Band...and now, I love Levon, too! Keep recording, Levon, as long as you can!!!
Great music for sitting around visiting with friends or by yourself. Really enjoy it while driving.
Levon Helm and his band have followed up their Grammy Winning "Dirt Farmer" with a brand new assortment of tunes that reinforces their importance to American Music. Helm, who needs no further proof that he is a national treasure for his contributions and innovation to the history of music, does his legend proud on this album. His distinct vocals which get stronger every day, keep the listener spellbound as he treads upon the continuum of emotions from "Heaven's Pearls" "I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free." The Levon Helm Band pays beautiful tribute to late Woodstock songwriter and musician Happy Traum with a moving rendition of Traum's "Golden Bird." Levon and harmony vocalists Amy helm and Teresa Williams demonstrate vocal grace on this lovely tune. Guitarist Larry Campbell once again shows on each track why he should be considered one of the world's best musicians as he consistently delivers his soul on each piece. It is such a gift to have the Levon Helm Band making music. They are truly an American Classic.
As with all of the Band and previous Helm albums, this one has deep roots in southern, rock, folk-blues, Chicago blues, country, and gospel with a smattering of Dixieland when the horn section really gets its blood going. The title itself pays homage to Blues great Muddy Waters, who titled one of his albums "Electric Mud") and two of Muddy's songs are included here. While somewhat tamer and more polished than the tour shows (the Rambles), still Electric Dirt's overriding impression is the pure soul and fun of this music whether played as a traditional folk or rock and roll. Helm grew up playing rock and roll when rock and roll itself was being born and growing up. It's as much a part of him, and his music, as the Arkansas cotton fields where he grew up. Age and the travails of time have worked their way on Levon's voice - it's not the same liquid tone that one heard on "All La Glory" on the Band's "Stage Fright" album. But it's a soulful, "high lonesome" sound that you feel when you hear it. The song selection is a broad mix, as if Levon pulled a list of favorites from his radio listening as a kid in the 50s and as lift the roof rock and roll drummer in the 60s. If you want to hear some old Band tunes thrown in, then check out the album listed below. But here on Electric Dirt, without any of The Band tunes, Levon's taste s great. If you like Helm's music, you have to listen to the recording "FestivaLink presents Levon Helm Band MerleFest Ramble at MerleFest 4/26/08" It's as exciting as the shows, and deftly recorded, with the 11 piece band including vocalists, keyboards, 4-piece horn section, Larry Campbell Amy Helm . . . pretty much the same line up that was used for much of "Electric Dirt". Some of the great old The Band tunes are in the mix of country, soul, gospel, folk, and rock and roll, all wrapped up in one solid, tight, and versatile band.