At the end of this month, Levon Helm will release Dirt Farmer, his first solo studio album in 25 years. As Helm’s fans and friends may know, this isn’t just a comeback album, it’s a survivor album. Helm has recovered from years of throat-cancer treatments, and lucky for music-lovers, he’s back making the kind of roots-inspired recordings that have endeared him to fans of The Band and beyond. Put simply, Helm still sounds like himself: twangy, earthy, warm, heartfelt. About half of the songs on Dirt Farmer are traditional mountain songs like “Little Birds” and “Poor Old Dirt Farmer,” and others are more modern singer/songwriter compositions that fit perfectly beside them. Steve Earle’s “The Mountain,” for example, holds its own beautifully on the same disc with A.P. Carter’s “Single Girl, Married Girl,” especially since the Earle song benefits from the like-minded harmonies of Buddy and Julie Miller (who also contribute their song “Wide River to Cross” to the disc). Other musicians appearing with Helm include his daughter Amy (vocals, mandolin, piano, drums) and multi-strings player Larry Campbell; those two also co-produced the album. The feeling of the album is very live, friendly and “front porch” without ever losing focus on the songs. Listen to Helm and co. celebrate his return to good health, and you’ll wish you’d been sitting in on these sessions.
Producers: Larry Campbell and Amy Helm. Engineer: Justin Guip. Studio: Levon Helm Studios (Woodstock, N.Y.). Mastering: Doug Sax/The Mastering Lab (Ojai, Calif.).