I Stand Corrected, Levon Helm

March 11, 2010

Okay. I recant an ignorant, off the cuff remark I made awhile back in my Grammys 2010 review. I soon learned my error and made a comment on that article, but upon further reflection I really felt the need to make a full, albeit short, article explaining just how wrong I was.

I was on a roll, throwing disparaging remarks at all of the mistakes that were made, all of the wins that should’ve been but didn’t quite. Near the end, when reviewing who won “Best Americana Album,” I listed the nominees, all of whom made great albums last year, remarked that Dylan lost for “Together Through Life” and wrote “that’s like Jordan losing a basketball award.” The one name on the list I didn’t recognize and whose album I hadn’t heard was Levon Helm with “Electric Dirt.” It won the award, and I wryly mentioned it had in a “whose heard of that guy anyway” sort of tone.

Ah. Flash forward a month or so, I’m listening to “Music From Big Pink” by The Band on vinyl with my wife. The Band was one of the great groups I waited forever to get into, finally catching “The Last Waltz” a few years ago, which caused me to get their  first few albums, which I enjoyed. My wife is a much bigger fan, so I recently purchased the remastered vinyl for her, and while listening to it I recoiled at the error of my ways. “Whose the main singer for The Band?” I asked, knowing only Robbie Robertson post-The Band. “Well, there’s Danko and there’s Levon Helm.” “Helm?” I asked. Instantly I went online and began listening to his solo work. I got “Electric Dirt,” and loved it. I mentally kicked myself for being too ignorant to have known the names of the members of The Band, and even moreso for writing off an album before even confirming who it was from and what it was all about. I had good basis for all of the other criticisms I threw at the Grammys, but not for this one.

So pick up “Electric Dirt.” It’s beautiful music; great folk, rock-tinged and gospel-drenched music. Levon in his older years is beginning to sound a bit like George Jones, but he’s wholly himself even when he’s doing a cover song as he does in album opener “Tennesee Jed” originally by The Grateful Dead.  Listen to “Move Along Train” and “The Growing Trade” and you’ll soon find out that like Johnny Cash in his later years, and like Bob Dylan has been doing on a string of great late-career work as well, Levon Helm is not slacking after a long career–no, it sounds like he’s geared up with a second wind to make music just as good, just as relevant, as he did 40 years ago.

As for that Grammy…is “Electric Dirt” better than “Together Through Life?” Well, I’m not sure. But it certainly is close enough to deserve the win it got, and as much as I loved the Wilco record and the other Americana nominees, it’s much truer to form and deserving than they are.

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One Response to “I Stand Corrected, Levon Helm”

  1. Given that Helm had and recovered from throat cancer, “Electric Dirt” is even more remarkable.

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