Review: Levon Helm, Electric Dirt

First Levon Helm survived throat cancer, then, improbably, he started singing again. And then, astonishingly, he returned to form. While his voice is thinner than during his days with The Band — he is 69, after all — Helm still brings the grit, that marvelous blend of Ozark country, blues and gospel.

His first album after recovering, 2007’s Dirt Farmer (Vanguard), was a treasure, an absolutely genuine slice of Americana that won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album.

Its followup, Electric Dirt, is another triumph, extending the reach of Farmer while retaining its rustic character. The new disc, released Tuesday, June 30, is not simply a plugged-in extension of its predecessor. Although electric guitars pop up now and again, it’s still largely an acoustic album. The addition of horns on four tracks — two arranged by Allen Toussaint and two by Stephen Bernstein — gives the new one an added dimension, some extra oomph.

The horns get into the act right way with a springy version of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” which has a decidedly Band-ish feel and kicks off the disc with a great deal of exuberance.

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About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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