Album: Levon Helm, Electric Dirt (Vanguard)

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The Independent Culture

On his 2007 comeback album, Dirt Farmer, Levon Helm's distinctive weather-beaten vocal tones animated the plight of the rural underclass as vividly as any documentary.

Hooking up again with Larry Campbell as producer, Helm comes closer to the classic Band style on Electric Dirt, which amps up the concerns covered acoustically on its predecessor, without sacrificing its rootsy grain. "Tennessee Jed" is done as a frisky R&B cakewalk, with well-marinated horns and piano backing up his woodbine drawl, and "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" and "Stuff You Gotta Watch" are driven by mandolin and accordion respectively, while the lurking New Orleans feel becomes explicit with the horn arrangements provided by Allen Toussaint for "Kingfish" and a jaunty version of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free". Intimations of mortality haunt songs such as "When I Go Away", "Move Along Train" and "Heaven's Pearls", while the rural decay theme is most clearly rendered on "Growing Trade", which recalls Band staples such as "The Weight" and "King Harvest" with its litany of bank loans and "too many seasons of calamity" forcing a poor farmer to acknowledge "I used to farm for a living, and now I'm in the growing trade".

Download this: 'Tennessee Jed', 'Growing Trade', 'When I Go Away', 'You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had', 'Golden Bird'