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Ramble at the Ryman

Levon Helm

June 1, 2011 Comments: 0

Levon Helm’s status as a true musical legend is beyond question. His contributions since the 1960s have cemented his place not only as a pioneer in the Americana/Roots genre, but as a leading light in the very evolution of popular music itself. It would, it might be assumed, be easy for such a man to rest on his laurels. However, what is so striking about this DVD tie-in is the genuine delight that Helm and the featured cast clearly have at playing the songs; they are granted a vigour that makes the assembled live versions every bit as vital as when they were first released.
Nashville’s beautiful, historic and sonically spotless Ryman Auditorium is the setting for this musical outing and, spurred on by an enthusiastic audience and a first class group of musicians, Helm shines. His voice is as expressive as ever and is imbued with a magnificent energy that is infectious to hear, especially on stunning versions of “Ophelia, The Weight” and “Chest Fever”. “Back to Memphis” also sounds fantastic, as does the old Carter family song “No Depression in Heaven.” In truth, there are no weak performances on this album – simply subtle gradations of fantastic.
The Levon Helm Band is joined by a host of luminaries that reads like a veritable who’s-who of modern Americana: Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, George Receli, Sam Bush and Billy Bob Thornton all make guest appearances, though each of them does so with respect and restraint, ensuring that Helm remains at the forefront of proceedings. The event, it should be noted, truly feels like a band’s night – no one outshines anyone else – and the listener is strongly left with the impression that all performances are firmly for the sake of the song.
It is difficult to separate Levon Helm from his history. He is thoroughly deserving of all the illustrious awards and accolades that he has garnered in more recent years. Sceptics might wonder whether, were this album to have been released by an unknown quantity, it would have been greeted with the same glee. The truth is that it matters not. This is a great album. The fact it’s released by a senior musical statesman of such standing is just a bonus. One thing’s for certain: whatever it is that he has had all these years – he’s still got it.
UK release date: June 6
Cate Mitchell

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