Levon Helm

Dirt Farmer

Dirt Farmer/Vanguard

helmFour albums from 1977 to 1982 — that was the extent of Helm’s solo studio output until now. Twenty-five years is a long time, but in the former Band drummer’s case, it was worth the wait.

Of course, during the last 10 years, he couldn’t have made a new record if he’d wanted to. In 1998, Helm underwent surgery for throat cancer and was told he’d never sing and possibly never talk again. Fortunately, he stuck with it and relearned the craft.

Comprising songs his parents and their friends sang and played as they were growing up in Arkansas, “Dirt Farmer” is an all-acoustic album of covers, some traditional and some by writers such as J.B. Lenoir, Paul Kennerley, Steve Earle and the husband-wife team of Buddy and Julie Miller.

The project was shepherded by multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell (acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, fiddles and mandolin) and daughter Amy Helm (harmony vocals, mandolin and mandola) and recorded at Levon’s barn studio in Woodstock. Amy takes over the kit on a few tunes, and five numbers are sans drums; but when he plays, the 67-year-old plays up a storm.

Especially noteworthy are the Stanley Brothers standard “False Hearted Lover Blues,” Earle’s “The Mountain” (on which one can almost hear Helm’s dearly departed Band-mate Rick Danko harmonizing) and Lenoir’s “Feelin’ Good.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. False Hearted Lover Blues
2. Poor Old Dirt Farmer
3. The Mountain
4. Little Birds
5. The Girl I Left Behind
6. Calvary
7. Anna Lee
8. Got Me A Woman
9. A Train Robbery
10. Single Girl, Married Girl
11. The Blind Child
12. Feelin’ Good
13. Wide River To Cross

Total time: 51:36

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Saga

10,000 Days

Inside Out

sagaMichael Sadler knows when to call it a day: After a couple of so-so studio albums and a pair of live releases (the first a fair performance of 1981’s “Worlds Apart” LP, the second an excellent harvesting of all the “Chapter” songs originally strung out across seven nonconsecutive albums), the master of the bombastic vibrato is leaving the Canadian prog-rock group.

But he’s going out on a high note, turning in as good a vocal performance as ever for an album of excellent new material that distills the high points of Saga’s 30-year career into one neat, nonconcept album. Perhaps showing his humble side, Sadler even steps back from the microphone to let the band rock out on the seven-minute instrumental “Corkentellis.”

All the cool keyboard styles are there (including the occasional just plain piano), and that crunchy staccato guitar still sounds great. When it gets into keys-guitar call and response and double lead, as in “Book of Lies,” the listener is transported to seventh auditory heaven.

The remaining band members intend to carry on, as they’ve put out an open casting call for a new lead singer, asking aspiring singers to download backing tracks and post their auditions on YouTube. Saga can go the Sadler-clone route or opt to pick someone original, but either way, the replacement will have some big shoes to fill.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Lifeline
2. Book Of Lies
3. Sideways
4. Can’t You See Me Now?
5. Corkentellis
6. More Than I Deserve
7. Sound Advice
8. 10,000 Days
9. It Never Ends

Total time: 50:56

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