Posts Tagged ‘Levon Helm’

‘My Love’s Got No Season . . .’

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

As far as I know, the first time I ran into the very good song “Even A Fool Would Let Go” was in February of 1990, when I happened upon a copy of Levon Helm’s self-titled 1982 album in Anoka, Minnesota. The album didn’t entirely impress me – I think it’s one of Levon’s lesser efforts, which is kind of a mystery, given the presence of the Muscle Shoals crew and Steve Cropper and production by Duck Dunn – but the song, the third track on the album, grabbed me:

And as Levon’s version came to my attention in the past few days, I thought I’d dig around a little bit. The song, written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow, was first recorded by Gayle McCormick, the former lead singer for Smith, for her 1974 album One More Hour.

There are more covers beyond Levon’s, of course, although not as many as I thought there would be. But my attention is flagging this morning, and the painters are here. I’ll get back to “Even A Fool Would Let Go” in one of the next few days.

Saturday Single No. 407

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

There’s been kind of a slow-motion Levon Helm festival going on here for the past few months. A while back, I picked up a CD/DVD combination pack titled Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn, documenting an October 2012 concert aimed at raising funds to preserve the Woodstock recording studio and performance venue of the late musician, who passed on earlier that year.

The line-up for the show was pretty impressive. Along with the Levon Helm band, which counts as one of its members Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, those who performed included Roger Waters, Mavis Staples, Garth Hudson, Marc Cohn, Gregg Allman, John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, Dierks Bentley, John Hiatt, Jakob Dylan, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Potter and quite a few more.

It took me a couple days to get through the concert, as I generally do my DVD watching for an hour or so late in the evening after the Texas Gal has retired for the night. And of course, tracks from the CDs of the show occasionally popped up randomly before, during and since the time I finished the film. My favorite performances? Three of them stand out: Marc Cohn’s “Listening to Levon,” which comes from his 2007 album Join The Parade; Mavis Staples’ take on “Move Along Train,” a 1966 Staple Singers’ track covered by Levon on his final album, 2009’s Electric Dirt; and Grace Potter’s rendition of “I Shall Be Released,” which The Band recorded for its 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.

Another DVD I’ve been taking in even more slowly is the 2011 release titled Ramble At The Ryman, chronicling a 2008 performance by Levon and his band – with a few guests – at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the one-time home of the Grand Old Opry. As does Love For Levon, the Ramble At The Ryman draws significantly on the catalog of The Band as well as wide swaths of American folk and country music. I’m not sure why I’m going more slowly on viewing Ramble At The Ryman; perhaps it’s because I had the CD of the performance long before I got the DVD, and there are no real surprises. (Conversely, I got Love For Levon as a CD/DVD package, so most performances on the DVD were new as I watched.)

But there was a third portion to the Levonfest this week. Digging in the catalog of the local Great River Regional Library, I found the DVD Ain’t In It For My Health, a film by Jacob Hatley that shows Levon at home in Woodstock and on the road in early 2008 as Levon is recording Electric Dirt. During the film’s shooting, Levon learns that The Band will be given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and that his 2007 album Dirt Farmer was nominated for (and won) a Grammy for best traditional folk album. He dismisses the lifetime achievement award as – I think I have the quote correct – “something for the folks in the suits,” but he’s clearly delighted near the end of the film to hear the news about the Grammy for Dirt Farmer.

Beyond those bits, two portions of Ain’t In It For My Health stick with me: There is a sequence showing Levon with some of his farming neighbors, and at one point, Levon drives one of their tractors around a field with a huge grin on his face. And several times during the shooting, we see Levon and Larry Campbell of the Levon Helm Band working on an unfinished Hank Williams song called “You’ll Never Again Be Mine.”

The unfinished lyrics were among those found by a janitor for Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2006. After some legal wrangling, Sony sent the lyrics to Bob Dylan, asking him to complete the songs. Levon was one of those invited to take part in the project, along with Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and others. Ain’t In It For My Health shows several brief scenes of Levon and Campbell crafting a melody and filling in lyrics for the song’s bridge.

And in the last portions of the film, we see other members of Levon’s band laying down their parts for the track. Near the end of the film, Levon, with his voice diminished by age and ravaged by illness but still vital, adds the lead vocal.

Here’s how “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” turned out on the 2011 album The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘White’

Friday, January 31st, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Violet’

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.

And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.

Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).

That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.

The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.

Shawn  Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.

Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.

To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.

I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:

Saturday Single No. 287

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

The news, as I would guess most readers here will know by now, came from the family of Levon Helm last Tuesday, April 17:

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey . . .

Thank you, fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration . . . he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage . . .

And Thursday, April 19, there was a simple message at Helm’s website, under a picture of a smiling Levon posed at the edge of a cornfield, a portrait taken during the photo session for his 2007 album, Dirt Farmer. The message read: 

Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul.

Since then, I’ve read fifteen, maybe twenty tributes to the man and accounts of his life. I can no longer separate my thoughts about Levon Helm from those I’ve garnered from everything I’ve read this week. (The best of those pieces is by Charles P. Pierce at the website of Esquire magazine; my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ pointed me there.) So I fear repetition or, worse yet, thievery as I write this morning.

I was lucky enough to see Levon perform three times: The first time, in 1989, found him one of the members of Ringo’s first All-Starr Band; he and fellow Band-mate Rick Danko did a superlative performance of “The Weight” with solos from Dr. John  on piano and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. Twice, then, during the 1990s, I saw the latter version of The Band – Levon, Rick and Garth Hudson fleshed out with Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and Jim Weider – at the Cabooze in Minneapolis.

Given those memories, and given my long-time affection for the music Levon made with The Band and on his own, his passing this week touched me in a manner that, among musicians, only the passing of John Lennon in 1980 and Clarence Clemons last year had done. Thursday evening’s red-eyed soundtrack here in my study came from Levon Helm, with and without The Band.

Many posts ago, I noted here that The Band was recording and performing the music we now call Americana long before anyone appended that label to the music. That holds true for all of Levon’s music, of course, and every time he played and sang, he reminded us of who we are in this land, and he reminded us of our connection to that land and to each other, things we seem to have forgotten.

Here’s Levon, joined by his daughter Amy, with the final track from Dirt Farmer, “Wide River To Cross.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.