Record Review - Levon Helm: Electric Dirt

(Vanguard Records)

Just as the dust from his ’07 masterpiece Dirt Farmer settles, Levon Helm returns with Electric Dirt, a companion album that digs deeper into the earthy, majestic songwriting summoned by the Band’s former vocalist and drummer. A cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” sets the tone for offbeat Americana, which then spirals into a panorama of rich, gospel-like textures in the Staples Singers’ “Move Along Train” and original number “Growing Trade.” The Appalachian ballad “Golden Bird” sways with a fiddle sawing on spectral notes that tangle with Helms’ weather-beaten voice. Vibrant energy wells in the New Orleans melodies of “Kingfish” and a barreling rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Stuff You Gotta Watch.” Indeed, Helm has planted himself in fertile soil, and Electric Dirt pulls at the roots of the folk tradition. Like Dirt Farmer, it’s every bit as much an odyssey. 5 stars out of 5