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Levon Helm - Electric Dirt
By: Jim Moulton, CSO Staff Journalist

Two years ago, after barely surviving throat cancer, Levon Helm, one of the founding members of The Band,  recorded a very successful, folk sounding, acoustic record called Dirt Farmer. Helm's new CD, Electric Dirt, has a lot of the same vibe as The Band's first record, though it has a lighter and less emotional sound than "Music From Big Pink". There lots of horns on some songs, a very big production with lots of instruments overall, the only thing missing is some great lead guitar ala Robbie Robertson, guess that is not what they were looking for.

The CD was produced by Larry Campbell and Helm's daughter Amy, who also provides background vocals. Overall, it is a real warm sounding disc with nice harmonies. Helm's drums are very sharp through out the disc, as the cohesive disc promises you a lot and delivers, unless you like a disc with electric guitar all over the place, this really goes for the Americana sound.     

The artwork on the Digipack packaging done by Michael Dubois and inspired by Helm is a picture of an old farm house with a tractor and outhouse in the front and someone looking like Levon sitting on the Front porch, playing a guitar. The CD is mastered by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab, which I have said before, Doug is the best, been doing this since vinyl mastering. He makes his own tube compressors and tube EQs for mastering in the analog domain.

I cannot see how this could do badly, the musicians are Helm with vocals and drums, Byron Mitchell on keyboards, Larry Campbell on various guitars, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer and harmonies. Basically, it is the same bunch who did Dirt Farmer which I just heard on Amazon, real folksy, acoustic CD. Plenty of ad on musicians with all of the horns and stuff, sometimes, it sounds a bit cluttered, but very warm still. It is hard for me to see how they could call this "Electric", when you don't have some electric guitar. I mean, come on, change Larry Campbell to Mike Campbell for one song.  I mean "Tennessee Jed" did sound good without that blistering Garcia guitar break, but imagine horns doing those parts, meanwhile 2 more CDs just sold. 

Listening to a recent release of The Band's first album, Music From Big Pink, that record is packed with emotion and historic songs, like "The Weight", "Chest Fever", "Long, Black Veil" and "I Shall Be Released". Ok, it is not as good of a recording as Electric Dirt, but recorded live, it really kicks, and on SACD, that sound quality doubles.

Of the Eleven Tracks on Electric Dirt, I would  pick right from the top, their version of "Tennessee Jed" from the Dead. An earlier advance I had, put this down further, I'm glad it's back at the top, a real lively piece to pull you into the disc. And it is done very well, very interesting to see how the other instruments compensate for the guitar parts.

Two other solid cuts are The Staples Singers "Move Along Train," which is a good solid gospel take. Then I really like "Growing Trade" by Helm and Campbell, which is a real good southern story song. It takes a look at the plight of a Southern small farm owner. I do not give reviews stars, but on this one I am, a solid 4 stars, with a star taken off for too many covers and not enough electric guitar parts. Helm fans will love it, the next CD might be called Back To The Dirt (sorry, couldn't resist), and other Americana fans will love it. Levon Helm is a class act.

Vanguard Records 

Click the pic to order from Amazon.com.

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