Album Review: Levon Helm, "Electric Dirt" (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard)

Album Review: Levon Helm, "Electric Dirt" (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard)
July 2,2009
By Phil Gallo
Live Daily

The Last Waltz," The Band's grand, multi-genre finale from late 1976, provides something of an inspiration for the material found on Levon Helm's follow-up to the Grammy-winning "Dirt Farmer." While the last Helm record celebrated the rustic, "Electric Dirt" has its moments on the farm, but also ventures to the juke joint, to church and to the barn dance. The more Helm ventures into mid-tempo blues and zydeco-influenced material the better as his ragged, throaty voice is able to deliver urgency and enthusiasm.

Helm connects on the more playfully paced tunes. Muddy Waters' "Stuff You Gotta Watch" is a joy, as is the Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed" and "When I Go Away," a gospel/blues number penned by producer Larry Campbell. About half the tunes feature a horn section, a reminder of Helm's solo debut leading the RCO All-stars 32 years ago. With the exception of "Heaven's Pearls," which features daughter Amy veering into the high and lonesome territory of bluegrass, slower tunes demand patience on the part of the listener.

Roots guitarist Campbell, who played in Bob Dylan's band in the 1990s and the early part of this decade, produces with an ear toward the casual, connecting with Helm's Southern roots throughout. Campbell's playing, whether it be on guitar, mandolin or fiddle, provides Helm with ace support.
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