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Dirt Farmer
     

Dirt Farmer

4.8 7
by Levon Helm
 

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Since his previous solo album in 1982, Levon Helm's Woodstock studio burned to the ground, his Band mates Richard Manuel and Rick Danko died, and Helm survived a throat cancer that nearly silenced his burly tenor. And yet you'd never guess at these troubles from the opening notes of Dirt Farmer. Sure, Helm's voice is haggard, but he bites into the traditional

Overview

Since his previous solo album in 1982, Levon Helm's Woodstock studio burned to the ground, his Band mates Richard Manuel and Rick Danko died, and Helm survived a throat cancer that nearly silenced his burly tenor. And yet you'd never guess at these troubles from the opening notes of Dirt Farmer. Sure, Helm's voice is haggard, but he bites into the traditional "False Hearted Lover Blues" with gusto that few 67-year-old rock 'n' roll vets can muster. And as that song and others on the album -- every one a winner -- prove, Helm's molasses-thick accent and deeply rhythmic phrasing are none the worse for wear. Recorded with his daughter Amy and musician friends including Buddy and Julie Miller, guitarist Larry Campbell, and keysmen Glenn Patscha and Brian Mitchell, among others, Dirt Farmer visits songs from Helm's Arkansas childhood. The lion's share are traditional numbers, performed acoustically albeit with robust rock and country grooves. The standout "Single Girl, Married Girl" is an A. P. Carter tune; Steve Earle's "The Mountain" gets an impassioned reading; and Paul Kennerley's Frank and Jesse James ballad "A Train Robbery" gets a gutsy treatment and a wicked resonator guitar arrangement. Both the material and the worn timbre of Helm's vocals suggest the high-lonesome wail of Ralph Stanley -- but where that Clinch Mountain man has plied the Grim Reaper's route on his most recent recordings, Helm is all joy and thankfulness. "Feelin' Good," a jaunty duet with his daughter, proves the former; the majestic closer, "Wide River to Cross," testifies to the latter. Music making doesn't come more thrillingly honest than this.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Mark Deming
During the Band's original run (from 1968 to 1976), Robbie Robertson may have been the group's strongest songwriter and the idea man behind most of their best work, but Levon Helm was truly the group's heart and soul with his tough, sinewy Arkansas vocals and his indomitable, loosely tight drumming. Robertson' solo work since leaving the Band has been the product of a man whose lofty ambitions outstrip his ability to make them interesting, but Helm's music has been the greater disappointment; with the exception of 1980's American Son, most of his solo recordings have been thoroughly disposable, offering plenty of good-time boogie but none of the gravity one might hope for from the man who made "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" come to such compelling life years ago. Which is why Dirt Farmer is such a pleasant surprise; it's easily Helm's best recorded work since American Son, and an absorbing look back at his roots as the son of a farm family in the rural South. Dirt Farmer was produced by Larry Campbell, a session guitarist and member of Bob Dylan's road band, in collaboration with Amy Helm, Levon's daughter, and they've assembled a solid but clutter-free acoustic band for these sessions, and the simple but iron-strong backdrops and superb songs are just what was needed to bring out the best in Levon. Helm survived a bout with throat cancer that was diagnosed in 1998, and his voice is noticeably more weathered than it once was, but in many respects the additional nooks and crannies suit this material beautifully; his interpretations of traditional rural folk songs like "Poor Old Dirt Farmer," "Little Birds," and "False Hearted Lover Blues" sound thoroughly authentic but with a bracing sense of force and commitment in Helm's vocals, and if Steve Earle's "The Mountain" and Buddy & Julie Miller's "Wide River to Cross" aren't venerable classics, they sound like they should be once Levon's done with them. Though Helm adds a touch of boogie to "Got Me a Woman" and a jumped-up interpretation of the Carter Family's "Single Girl, Married Girl," in this context they add some welcome spice to the stew, and Helm's drumming remains superb. Dirt Farmer is a hard-edged but compassionate and full-hearted set of roots music from a master of the form, and it's a welcome, inspiring return to form for Levon Helm after a long stretch of professional and personal setbacks.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/30/2007
Label:
Vanguard Records
UPC:
0015707984423
catalogNumber:
79844
Rank:
629

Related Subjects

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Levon Helm   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Drums,Vocals
Julie Miller   Vocal Harmony
Larry Campbell   Dulcimer,Acoustic Guitar,Fiddle,Mandolin,Percussion,Background Vocals,Guitar (Resonator)
Buddy Miller   Vocal Harmony
Glenn Patscha   Pump Organ
Teresa Williams   Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Brian John Mitchell   Piano,Accordion,Background Vocals
Amy Helm   Mandolin,Percussion,Piano,Drums,Vocals,Background Vocals,Mandola,Vocal Harmony
Byron Isaacs   Bass,Percussion,Background Vocals
George Receli   Percussion

Technical Credits

J.B. Lenoir   Composer
Julie Miller   Composer
Larry Campbell   Arranger,Producer,Audio Production
A.P. Carter   Composer
Justin Guip   Engineer
Levon Helm   Arranger,Liner Notes
Paul Kennerley   Composer
Buddy Miller   Composer
Georgette Cartwright   Creative Services Coordinator
Traditional   Composer
Amy Helm   Arranger,Producer,Audio Production
Byron Isaacs   Composer
Carrie Smith   Art Direction

Customer Reviews

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Dirt Farmer 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the very reasons I liked The Band so much was I liked Levon Helms voice. It blended with the music so well. I decided to give this Cd a try as the notes said it compared to Ralph Stanley "also a fan of Stanley". I was raised on rock n roll on my mom's side and bluegrass from my dad's so I have different tastes when it comes to music. I love good bluegrass and just plain "down home" folk/bluegrass, whatever you want to call it, but it comes from the mountains in Eastern Kentucky is all I know. I love this CD!! Levon's voice blends with this bluegrass/folk music so well and his daughter's harmony compliments it very well. My favorite song is "Single Girl Single Child". The musician's also compliment Levon's voice. He may be 67 years old but he's still got it going on. There have been many artist's whose career's peaked once, e.g. Carlos Santana, and then after they get older,they reach their peak again, which is exactly what this CD does. Levon has reached his peak again. I hope next year that the Grammy's will give this CD the honor and recognition that it deserves.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have become addicted to listening to this album over and over. There is not one track that is not incredible. If you appreciate music with a distinctly American traditional, rural folk sound, sort of in the genre of the soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou, buy this album.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Band was the definitive American band. And a band that had many personal tragedies. Don't want to go into all that now. Levon is the real deal, always was always will be. This CD is the real deal. Larry Campbell is one of the best all round players, live and in the studio. Amy Helm's voice blends right in. Dirt Farmer is American music. Check it out, listen and just plain dig it!
Va_Trucker More than 1 year ago
Read the liner notes and find out how much Levon has been through since the beginning of the new century. It explains how we almost lost the amazing vocal talent of Levon Helm. Then listen to a wonderful CD filled with soloing, and harmonizing. The music is a blend of traditional and original hillbilly bluegrass. Helms vocals are wonderfully present, and he puts his mark right where it belongs. You could say that this is music stripped down to its soul. Everything that you want to hear, with none of the useless puff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
very solid vocals by levon and terrific backing band. highly reccomended
Guest More than 1 year ago
Levon's voice has a rich texture that touches the American Soul. Dirt Farmer is a Masterpeice.