Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#138 in the Series) is Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer.
Every year since the early 80’s I’ve come up with my own Album of the Year. This won easily as my Album of Year in 2008. (It was actually released late in 2007, I know!)
We all know Levon Helm as drummer, picker and lead vocalist of The Band. If you’re a fan of The Band, or just Americana music in general, you must add Dirt Farmer to your collection.
It was strange. I actually had this album for quite some time before I really got into it. I had it, gave it a quick spin when I must have been busy, or in a crappy mood, and then set it aside for at least three months. Why, I don’t know. But thankfully, I did give it a second listen. Some albums you have to be in the correct mood for it to work that first time.
So when I gave Dirt Farmer a second chance I was truly moved. Levon Helm is an absolute amazing human. He recorded this album when he was 67 years old and was just coming off throat cancer. His voice was a little weak in places, and quite robust in others. We have good days and bad days. He’s since released a follow up called Electric Dirt and has been touring constantly. Of Course he still has his acting career as well. And he’s now 70 years of age.
On Dirt Farmer, Levon is joined by his daughter Amy Helm as well as former Bob Dylan band member, Larry Campbell.
The album begins with the traditional False Hearted Woman Blues. Next up is Poor Dirt Farmer. It is pure ‘Band’ sounding, complete with Levon leading the verse vocals with a full vocal, full band chorus. I would have loved to hear this with Rich Danko at his side.
Steve Earle contribute a track called The Mountain. Got Me a Woman is a great blues track with basically Levon and his 8-string.
Single Girl, Married Girl is a fun sing-a-long explaining the differences of the two.
There is one song however that puts Dirt Farmer over the top. It took the album from a very good album to a great album. That song is the ballad duet that Levon performs with his daughter Amy. It’s called Anna Lee. Written by Laurelyn Dossett, it is just Levon, Amy and Larry Campbell’s fiddle. Father and daughter sound amazing together. If you don’t want to buy this complete album at least download this track. Levon has a hard time hitting some of the notes. But it just adds to the mystique and loveliness of the song. It actually feels like Amy is pulling him up at times. Plus it fun to hear him sing about someone named ‘Anna Lee’ again.
Dirt Farmer was Levon’s first studio album since 1982.
It was released by Vanguard Records.
It won a Grammy Award for best Traditional Folk Album in 2008.
It peaked at #102 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.
I’m attaching a few videos. The first is a great interview that Levon did describing his fight with throat cancer. Please watch it. It’s an inspiring tale. Next up will be Poor Old Dirt Farmer and Anna Lee.
No, It’s not as popular as some of The Band’s other releases such as ‘Music From Big Pink, Stage Fright” or the live masterpiece, “The Last Waltz,” but 1975’s “North Lights, Southern Cross” is still a great listen.
Choice cuts include “Ophelia, Hobo Jungle”, and two of my favorites. “It’s Makes No Difference” and “Acadian Driftwood. Acadian Driftwood” tells the story of the the Canadian Acadian tribe and how they drifted down the Mississippi river and became, Cajuns.
All songs were written by Robbie Robertson.
It was the first album to be recorded in The Bands newly opened California studio called Shangri-La. It had been four years since the last studio release, “Cahoots.”