CD Review: Levon Helm

Dirt Farmer Dirt Farmer/Vanguard
Music •••½ Sound •••½

Levon Helm weighs in with his first solo studio album in 25 years, and it's a keeper. Arguably rock's greatest singing drummer, he returns to his Arkansas roots here: Most of the songs are traditional ("Poor Old Dirt Farmer") or authentically rootsy (A. P. Carter's "Single Girl, Married Girl"), or they simply sound like they're as old as the hills (Steve Earle's "The Mountain"). In other words, this ain't exactly rock & roll - at least, not the way Helm's old colleagues played it. (There's nary an electric guitar to be heard.) But it's often every bit as evocative as the Band's best, even if Helm's voice (after a bout with throat cancer) doesn't have quite the sly cackle of yore. When everything clicks, as it does on the high-lonesome country fatalism of "Calvary" and "Wide River to Cross," this is some of the strongest and most personal music Helm has ever made.

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