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Levon Helm

Ramble at the Ryman – 2011 (Vanguard)

Reviewed by Brian Steinberg

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CDs by Levon Helm

Time can be a funny thing. Where the passage of decades has made Bob Dylan's voice nearly unintelligible, the years have sanded some of the grit off of Levon Helm's legendary pipes. Yes, we're aware Mr. Helm has had medical issues with his throat, and don't wish to make light of his situation, but those elements have rendered his voice more smooth and supple whereas the best known versions of his songs had a little more grit at their core.

That doesn't mean you won't enjoy this live disc, recorded live at the Ryman in Nashville on Sept. 17, 2008, filled with Band classics including Ophelia, Rag Mama Rag and The Shape I'm In. Helm and his crew - a broad team plus guest spots by such luminaries as John Hiatt and Sheryl Crow - are clearly having loads of fun. And let's be honest, you aren't likely to hear anyone else weigh in on everything from Back to Memphis and Deep Elem Blues across the course of an evening. You may miss some of the rougher edges that were part of Helm's younger days, but there's plenty to smile at in his present.