Thursday, January 17, 2008


Here's another album I should have mentioned more prominently in my favorite albums of 2007 list. Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer came out toward the end of the year, and I checked it out based on the advice of a friend who has great taste in music.

Levon Helm used to be the leader of The Band in their early days, before songwriting and record making came into the picture, at which point, Robbie Robertson kind of took the reins. Robbie is a great guitarist, a great songwriter, producer and arranger. He had a lot to work with, as the members of the Band were all multi-instrumentalists, and the group featured three singers.

After The Band broke up, Robbie did really well - as the guy with most of the songwriting credits, he gets the most money (by far, something the other members have not been happy about). He's also produced film soundtracks and done a bunch of highly acclaimed solo albums that are way more slick than The Band's albums were. He was taken more seriously than the other guys, who tried to carry on without him. The "reunited" version of The Band featured Helm, Garth Hudson and the late Rick Danko, they toured a bit and did a few albums. They did a great version of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," but I didn't like too much of thier output other than that.

Levon's suffered through some hard times: he recovered from throat cancer, endured the death of Rick Danko, and also had some money problems. I'm glad to see that things are turning up for him a bit: his "Midnight Ramble" shows at his home in Woodstock have been selling out, apparently, he's performing really well, and his voice has recovered.

Dirt Farmer, his first solo studio album in twenty-something years is great. If Robbie Robertson's solo albums (which I love) represent what The Band may have sounded like if they formed in 1989, I think Dirt Farmer sounds like... what they would sound like today, if they never released records, ignored the outside world, and stayed together all this time. It's a really soulful album. Welcome back, Levon.

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