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LEVON HELM

DIRT FARMER

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Vanguard (VCD79844)

Not a new album of course but Levon's superb album from 2006. This was the album that won him a well-deserved Grammy Award and turned his career around, leading to a creative resurgence that subsequently resulted in the superb follow up CD Electric Dirt (798 612) and excellent Live At The Ryman album, available on both CD (079 8582) and DVD (079 8589).

Unfortunately, this resurgence could not last and in early 2012 Levon succumbed to the throat cancer that had taken hold a number of years before. Indeed, it was on this album that the effects of this disease on his vocal chords was first noticeable, though at the time  the added cragginess and fragility added a certain gravitas to his voice and an increased poignancy to the songs on the album.

Recorded in his own Woodstock studio, this was his first studio album in over 20 years and it was clear from the outset that he was intent on making up for lost time. There is an extent to which this is a concept album, seeking to capture a sense of a rural America that he once felt part of but now felt he had lost. The acoustic instrumentation and songs employed (re-arranging traditional material and re-interpreting songs from contemporaries and friends, such as Steve Earle and Buddy Miller) all gelled perfectly, invoking the heart and soul of country, gospel and folk into one cohesive set. Like his work with The Band many years before, this album set a new benchmark for presenting the history of America in musical form.

This album really is choc-full of special songs and performances such as The Mountain, Little Birds, Anna Lee, the heartbreaking closer Wide River To Cross and all the rest. And let's just be thankful we had his special talents while we did.

 

Review Date: August 2012

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