Black Music Matters Festival

Levon Helm

Dirt Farmer – 2007 (Vanguard)

Reviewed by Linda Dailey Paulson

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CDs by Levon Helm

Levon Helm's music has always been firmly rooted in early American music well past the Carters and Stanleys. This embraces this heritage in its selections of traditional and contemporary Americana. As its title implies, "Dirt Farmer" is earthy with a raw and vital energy. It is Helm's valentine to life and the music that continues to sustain him.

Helm explains in the liner notes his interest in revisiting some traditional songs he grew up playing, including "Little Birds" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me." He effectively transforms The Carter Family's "Single Girl" into an upbeat blues tune.

The contemporary material was thoughtfully chosen. Helm makes Steve Earle's "The Mountain" squarely his. Two Paul Kennerely tunes are also featured.

Helm claims his voice "is over halfway back" after years of throat cancer treatments. It's as shaggy and full of life as it ever was on "The Weight." Simply put, it's a must-listen.