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2009 release from the former member of The Band, the highly anticipated follow-up to the Grammy winning Dirt Farmer album (2007). Electric Dirt again finds Levon steeped in tradition in his connection to the land and those who live by it, but this record goes deeper and wider, incorporating Gospel, Blues and Soul elements in a bracing collection of originals and carefully chosen outside songs. As with Dirt Farmer, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell took the reigns as producer and the album was recorded at The Barn/Levon Helm Studios.
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Helm after suffering from cancer, undergoing chemo, radiation therapy and losing his voice miraculously regained it. Although a bit higher than before, it's still Levon and he's in darn fine voice here with a double fistful of strong songs.
"Electric Dirt" unlike "Dirt Farmer" focuses less on traditional southern ballads and reintroduces a bit more of The Band twang, a bit of R&B horn work and the result is one of the best solo albums from a former member of The Band yet.
"Growin' Trade" is the first original song that Levon's done in a long time and, written in collaboration with Larry Campbell is one of the finest on the album.
It's not all electric as there are tracks like "Golden Bird" that sound like they are vintage recordings made by Harry Smith for a Folkways release.
Listen to the samples first of course but if you enjoy them you'll find a lot more great stuff on "Electric Dirt" as infectious and effective an album as Helm as made in over 30 years.
It's rare that any famous performer comes back and turns out something in old age that is better than what they did when they were young and popular, Clapton, and Ralph Stanley are the only ones I can think of offhand. But both Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt are mega home runs.
Speaking of Ralph Stanley although this is not really bluegrass Helms voice has actually gotten more character to it just like Ralph's has. The songs are great americana stuff sung with total gusto and the background vocals just give them awesome punch.
Who would have thought he could have OWNED the Dead's TN Jed? What a great rendition! Hardly not a clinker on either album. True classics!
And that is critical. In many of the tunes, one's imagination immediately inserts virtual harmonies from Danko and and Manuel. Of course, they're gone, but you can almost hear them coming in. The horns would put you in mind of the wonder that Hudson would effect. As for Levon Helm's drumming, he has a snap, roll and swing in finer form than I have ever heard. His voice is back as well. Midnight Rambles and time have brought a large measure of restoration to one of America's most iconic singers.
The songwriting is crisp and draws on Muddy Waters, Happy Traum, Jerry Garcia, Levon and Larry Campbell, Pop Staples and Carter Stanley, among others. "When I Go Away" ranks with "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
All in all, superb in every regard. Pick this up!