Archive for the Levon Helm Category

Top 20 of 2009: 6-4

Posted in Levon Helm, Scott Miller, Shane Nicholson, Top 20 of 2009 on January 5, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#6 – Electric Dirt by Levon Helm

Levon Helm was a legend long before he revived his solo career in 2007 with the critically acclaimed Dirt Farmer. As a member of The Band in the 60’s and 70’s along with Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson, Levon was responsible for creating some of the most beloved Roots Rock music of all time. His sharp drumming and weathered voice helped to define The Band’s sound and continues to shape his music today. Electric Dirt is Levon’s second album since returning to the music business following a battle with throat cancer.

This album picks up almost exactly where Dirt Farmer left off, and finds Levon covering several classics such as The Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” Randy Newman’s “Kingfish,” and Pops Staples’ “Move Along Train.” Levon covers some new ground as well. The most inspired piece here is “When I Go Away,” a gospel flavored tune written by the album’s producer and fiddle player Larry Campbell. The song is also very representative of the album’s overall sound that blends a bit of soul into Levon’s country framework.

Levon Helm: When I Go Away (Buy Album)

#5 – Familiar Ghosts by Shane Nicholson

Here’s where this list deviates a bit from the one I turned in to The Bird List. Although it was a 2008 release in Shane’s native Australia, and it still hasn’t been issued in the U.S., this album was a big part of my year and needs to be included here. I told the story of how I obtained this album back when I wrote my review of it in August. What I didn’t say was that I started playing the record at WDVX (the only person in the States to do so?) and had several listeners email me to find out how to get a copy (iTunes). One listener even found a way to have a copy imported to him from overseas. I’d say this album is worth the extra effort it might take to find it.

The album is a continuation of the sound found on the collaborative album Shane released last year with his wife Kasey Chambers. The songs are all built around acoustic grooves and float from standard singer/songwriter fare to bluegrass flavored rambles and back. The result is a classic sound that also has a strong footing in the present. There was a time before I became familiar with Shane’s work when I thought he was merely a complimentary player piggybacking off of his wife’s name and acclaim. I no longer hold that belief.

Shane Nicholson: Easy Now (Buy Album)

#4 – For Crying Out Loud by Scott Miller & The Commonwealth

Again, I can’t have a list without putting Scott Miller on it. In fact, this album may even deserve to be higher on the list than it is. I certainly think I listened to it more than anything else this year. I know I played it more than anything else on the air at WDVX. The truth is that Scott is one of my favorite artists, he’s based out of Knoxville, and this site is named for one of his songs. I don’t want to appear too biased by placing him too high on the list. I interviewed Scott about the album when it was released in the Spring, and finally got around to posting my review in the Summer.

As I said in my previous review, don’t believe Scott when he starts the album with the lyric, “I’ve got nothing for you.” It’s just not true. What this album does is illustrate exactly why I love Scott Miller as a songwriter. He can write about both the ridiculous and the sublime and make both work extremely well. “Sin in Indiana” is a song based on Scott’s theory that uptight Midwesterners actually send all of their sin down the Mississippi River where it is released in the people of New Orleans. It features characters with teeth made of limestone and church deacons who hide pornography in cornfields. Ridiculous. It also features “I’m Right Here My Love,” a touching song about a married couple saying goodbye. Sublime. The song I’m sharing here is an older tune that has its origins in Scott’s days with the V-Roys.

Scott Miller & The Commonwealth: Heart in Harm’s Way (Buy Album)

Notes from a Bachelor and his Dog

Posted in Amy Speace, Drive-By Truckers, Levon Helm, Merle Haggard, Tim Easton on September 30, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

The smiling creature seen above is my dog Deacon. He’s a strange little Golden Retriever, Chow, Pekingese mix (we think). He’s also my only company this week while my wife is out of town on a business trip. Hopefully, the two of us will manage to stay alive until she gets back.

In the meantime… Notes.
***I’ll start with a sad note I picked up over at Music Fog. It seems as though Levon Helm is on a doctor prescribed vocal vacation for a while after having a lesion removed from his vocal chords. The lesion was determined to be non-cancerous, which is extra good news due to Levon’s past battles with throat cancer. He will, however, need to take a break for a while to let his vocal chords heal. I hope you’ll join me in wishing him a speedy recovery. Check out the full story at Music Fog.
***Speaking of the Fog, I’ve really been enjoying all of the videos they’ve been posting from their visit to the Americana Music Conference. They invited several artists to join them in the “Celebrity Coach” (read: big ole bus) for intimate acoustic sessions. They recorded it all and are posting videos to the site. Here’s one from Amanda Shires, an artist I featured last week. There are also great performances from Charlie Robison, The Trishas, The Band of Heathens, The Belleville Outfit, Annie & the Beekeepers, and many more. Check it out.
***The September edition of Tennessee Shines takes place later this week on Wednesday night at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. This month, we’re joined by local bluegrassers Jimbo Whaley & Greenbrier, last year’s Best New/Emerging Americana Artist Mike Farris & The Roseland Rhythm Review, and songwriters Amy Speace, Tim Easton, and Randall Bramblett.
The whole thing will be broadcast live on WDVX and wdvx.com Wednesday night at 7:00 Eastern. Here’s a small taste of what ought to be another great show. These are a couple of older tracks from Amy Speace and Tim Easton.
Amy Speace: Two (featuring Gary Louris) (Buy Album)
Tim Easton: Poor, Poor L.A. (Buy Album)
***As I mentioned before, my wife is out of town this week. What better time to share a track from one of my favorite bands (and one of my wife’s least favorite), The Drive By Truckers. I have no real reason for sharing this one other than to ask all of you to play it at the loudest possible volume and sing along.
Drive By Truckers: Sink Hole (Buy Album)
***I’ll end by balancing that one out with a link to stream Rosanne Cash’s latest release The List. The album isn’t released until October 6th, but you can hear the whole thing right now on NPR’s website. The album (which is Excellent) is made up of Rosanne’s renditions of twelve classic songs culled from a list of 100 essential songs her father, Johnny Cash, gave to her over three decades ago. I’ll share the original version of one of the songs here. You can read more and listen to Rosanne’s version from NPR and buy the album next week.
Merle Haggard: Silver Wings (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Last Year’s Artist of the Year… Levon Helm

Posted in Levon Helm on September 12, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Levon Helm was named Artist of the Year at last year’s Americana Music Awards. His inspirational story of surviving throat cancer and his amazing Dirt Farmer album helped him secure the award.

His new album is great too…

Americana Music Awards: Nominees Super Post

Posted in Alison Krauss, Americana Music Awards, Drive-By Truckers, Hayes Carll, James McMurtry, Jim Lauderdale, Kane Welch Kaplan, Levon Helm, Robert Plant, Steve Earle, The Avett Brothers on September 11, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

It’s been a while since I posted anything about the upcoming Americana Honors and Awards Show. Since it’s coming up next week, I thought I’d better get back on the ball. You can find my previous posts on the Awards here. A full list of this year’s nominees can be found here (scroll down).

Last month, I started this whole series on the awards nominees by listing the five songs nominated for Song of the Year. Four of the five nominated songs come from albums nominated for Album of the Year. Since I wrote fairly extensively about the artists in that post, I’m not going to write about them again. Instead, here is a list of the nominees with another track from each album.

The nominees are…

Raising Sand from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Just Us Kids from James McMurtry
Trouble in Mind from Hayes Carll
Dirt Farmer from Levon Helm

Robert Plant and Allison Krauss: Fortune Teller (Buy Album)
James McMurtry: Bayou Tortous (Buy Album)
Hayes Carll: Drunken Poet’s Dream (Buy Album)
Levon Helm: Feelin‘ Good (Buy Album)

Out of these four… my vote probably goes to Hayes Carll. If I were betting, however, I would place my money on Levon Helm. I think the fact that he’s making a return from throat cancer, coupled with the fact that Dirt Farmer is truly a killer album will be enough to carry him here. He’s probably the favorite for Artist of the Year as well.

Speaking of which… the nominees for Artist of the Year are…

Levon Helm
James McMurtry
Jim Lauderdale
Steve Earle

John Prine won this award a few years ago when he was making his return from cancer. Levon should take this in a walk. Competition comes from tireless performer and Americana Ambassador, Jim Lauderdale. Lauderdale released two albums during the nomination period (2007’s Bluegrass Diaries and 2008’s Honeysongs), is the long-time host of the Americana Honors and Awards Show, and recently took up hosting duties for the Tennessee Shines radio show. Earle and McMurtry will always get a few votes for their outspokenness and activism. I’ll be shocked, however if Helm doesn’t win this one.

We’ve heard from Helm and McMurtry… here’s a taste of what Earle and Lauderdale were up to over the past year.

Jim Lauderdale: Honey Suckle Honey Pie (Buy Album)
Steve Earle: Sparkle & Shine (Buy Album)

The final group I’ll look at here is Duo/Group of the Year. The nominees are…

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
The Drive-By Truckers
Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, & Fats Kaplan
The Avett Brothers

Judging by the fact that Plant & Krauss were also nominated for Album and Song of the Year, I’d say this award is theirs to lose. The Truckers put out another stellar album this January called Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. My favorite Trucker, Jason Isbell, left the group before the recording of this album, but the Truckers still deliver with another epic effort. Kane Welch Kaplan continues the trio’s signature sound of bluesy acoustic folk. The Avett Brothers didn’t release anything new during the nomination period, but they continue to tour relentlessly with their high energy show, pushing the limits of their sound and bringing their music to new audiences. The Avetts won this award last year, the first year the award was presented.

The Drive-By Truckers: Two Daughters & a Beautiful Wife (Buy Album)
Kane, Welch, Kaplan: That’s What I’ve Got (Buy Album)
The Avett Brothers: Tear Down the House (Buy Album)

There you go… the nominees for this year’s Americana Honors and Awards Show. The show will take place September 18th at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The ceremony will be broadcast live on XM Satellite Radio’s X-Country Channel.

Americana Music Awards Nominees: Song of the Year

Posted in Alison Krauss, Americana Music Awards, Hayes Carll, James McMurtry, Levon Helm, Robert Plant, Tift Merritt on August 5, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Above is a picture of Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller taken at the 2007 Americana Honors and Awards Show in Nashville. For the last few years, Jim has served as the host of the awards while Buddy has led the house band. Both gentlemen will reprise those roles again this year.

This June, the Americana Music Association announced the nominees for the Seventh Annual Americana Honors and Awards Show to be held September 18th at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Between now and September, I’ll highlight most of the awards categories and honorees here on the blog. Today, we’ll start with the nominees for Americana Song of the Year.
And the nominees are…

Hayes Carll: She Left Me for Jesus (Buy Album)

Tift Merritt: Broken (Buy Album)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Gone, Gone, Gone (Buy Album)
James McMurtry: Cheney’s Toy (Buy Album)
Levon Helm: Poor Old Dirt Farmer (Buy Album)

Hayes Carll – “She Left Me for Jesus” The first song on the list is also the one that generated the most controversy. Hayes Carll’s “She Left Me for Jesus” tells the common story of a man who lost his girl to another man. What makes this song different is that the narrator knows his girl’s new beau is named Jesus, and that he wears sandals and has long hair. He is not aware, however, that Jesus is really JESUS. He doesn’t even seem to know who the Biblical Jesus is. He also is not aware that his girl has not really left him for another man. She has just found a higher calling in doing the Lord’s work. Confused, our hero just doesn’t understand her decision and vows to find Jesus and have his revenge.

The humor of the song comes from the total obliviousness and ignorance of the narrator. We laugh at him the same way we laughed at Archie Bunker. We don’t laugh at the awful things he says. We find the humor in the total lack of awareness and misguided beliefs that lead him to say those things in the first place. Understandably, certain religious groups have had problems with the song (We haven’t played it at WDVX for that exact reason), but I find it to be all very tongue-in-cheek and quite hilarious.

Tift Merritt – “Broken” I wrote about Tift Merritt’s latest album Another Country recently here before her show in Knoxville. When I wrote that post, I left out the second nominee for song of the year because I knew I would get to share it with you here.

Tift Merritt’s “Broken” is an uplifting song that reminds the listener that the clouds always have silver linings.

“I wish I were a freeway
Laid out clearer than a bright day.
Run wide open down this causeway.
Like brand new.
But I’m broken.
And I don’t understand
What is broken
Falls into place once again.
And the kindness
Come and gather me in like a rainstorm
Again and again and again.”

A common theme, but given a fresh life here by Tift. She says the metaphor of “Gather me in like a rainstorm” comes from spending time on the coast of North Carolina. When the daily storms would move in toward the coast, families would gather together for comfort and safety from the storm. No matter how broken she gets, others gather her in with kindness and remind her that we’re never truly broken as long as we have a support system of friends and family to fall back on.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: “Gone, Gone, Gone” The third nominee comes from an unlikely combination of one of the sweetest voices in bluegrass and one of the most legendary voices of Rock & Roll. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss seem as mismatched as a musical pair could be. Listen to them sing together, however, and it all somehow makes sense. The two combined to deliver one of the catchiest and best sounding songs I heard over the last year with their cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Gone, Gone, Gone.”

The sessions were produced by T-Bone Burnett (O Brother Where Art Thou?), so there is no surprise that the record sounds amazing. The surprise is in the sound itself. Plant, known for his Rock & Roll wailings, did things with his voice on this record that he had never done before and says he didn’t know he could do. He pulls back just a bit, using restraint and playing a complimentary role. He taught himself to harmonize with Krauss and the lesson paid off.

James McMurtry: “Cheney’s Toy” The next nominee is another controversial track. James McMurtry’s scathing indictment of President George W. Bush is the most politically charged song on this list, and like Hayes Carll, that controversy has hurt airplay for this track.

The controversy, however, doesn’t stem from McMurtry’s political angst. He’s mined this territory before on tracks like the brilliant “We Can’t Make it Here” from 2005’s Childish Things. In fact, this sort of vitriol directed toward the White House is almost expected from him these days. The controversy, rather, came when some misunderstood (misunderestimated?) the song as an attack on the American Soldier instead of an attack on “W.”

“Keep smiling for the camera.
Keep waving to the crowd.
Don’t let up for an instant.
Stay the course and make your mama proud.
You’re the man.
Show ’em what you’re made of.
You’re no longer daddy’s boy.
You’re the man.
That they’re all afraid of,
But you’re only Cheney’s toy.”

By using Bush’s pet phrase of “stay the course” and referring to the subject as “daddy’s boy”… a reference to George H.W. Bush… McMurtry says he thought he made the subject of the song quite clear. One thing that is clear is that topical songs like this one seem to do well with many of the liberal leaning Americana voters.

Levon Helm: “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer is his first solo album in 25 years, and an album that almost never got made. Helm underwent surgery for throat cancer in 1998. After surviving 28 radiation treatments and a fire that destroyed over 80 percent of his barn studio in Woodstock, NY, Helm spent a few years rebuilding his studio and regaining his voice. Dirt Farmer was recorded in that rebuilt barn studio and provides a fitting showcase for Helm’s unique vocal instrument.

Like many of the songs on the album, “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” is a traditional tune like the ones Helm learned to play many years ago with his family. He didn’t learn this particular song until years later while working in Gatlinburg, TN on the set of the movie, The Dollmaker. If you get the feeling from listening to this song that Helm may know something about the life of that poor old farmer… you’re right. Helm grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas. It was on that farm that he learned many of the tunes that would comprise most of his latest record.

Who should win? I honestly can’t decide, but you can leave a comment if you want to vote.

Edit: I’ve added a poll on this topic to the right of the screen. Feel free to vote in that as well.