Levon and the Band again
After battling off throat cancer and the loss of his fellow Band singers Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, Levon Helm had been laying low for a while, usually only performing high-priced private gigs at his own Woodstock home. Now a quarter-century after his last album, his return on Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) isn't just the return of a (literally) great voice but also a good album that he can hang his hat on, aided in part by his own daughter Amy. It's the best kind of roots music, plumbing not only oldies (Carter Family) but also newer material (i.e. Steve Earle) and done with truckloads of conviction and very little sentimentality. Ryan Adams could learn a lot from him as such. (You can hear samples and buy the album at the Barnes & Noble site)
Hearing this fine album also made me remember a great Saturday Night Live sketch from earlier this year, based on the Band's classic tune "The Weight." Here, cast members plus host/music-nut Zack Braff listen to the song in a bar and recall fond memories linked to the song. The joke is that each of the memories are depraved and disgusting but treated casually by each of the guys. Each story starts out as a sweet family-themed tale and then rapidly breaks down- a great slap at sentimentality. What's also great about the sketch is the timing- each story is just long enough to get tied to each verse and then everyone sings the chorus together until Levon drags out the last line there in the song as each actor then delivers the last grisly detail of their tale.
Since a writers' strike is on, we might have to make due with these kind of re-runs for a while...