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Tremendous live performances from Levon Helm's famous Midnight Rambles at his Woodstock estate from 2005-2010.

Music Review: The Levon Helm Band – ‘The Midnight Ramble Sessions Vol. 3’

The late Levon Helm loved to perform and play music, but after he contracted throat cancer in 2004, he was not strong enough to tour and was limited in the amount of singing he could do. So he began hosting concerts every week in a barn that he had converted to a recording studio at his estate in Woodstock.

He recorded most of the concerts. This is the third album released from those live performances.

Helm in 2007, Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Arnold
Helm in 2007, Photo: Daniel Arnold

It is a very diverse and enjoyable set of music, taken from concerts between 2005 and 2010. Helm only sings on four numbers here:  the first track, Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing,” the purely blues “Drivin’ Wheel,” which also features great horns, and “One More Shot,” which captures the sound he had with The Band, along with “Take Me To the River,” another classic on which he gives it his all. His drumming remains strong and powerful throughout.  Over a dozen musical guests perform on the CD, and a variety of stylesfrom country to gospel, blues and jazz to folkare represented.

One of the best numbers by a guest musician is “A Certain Girl,” with vocals and fantastic piano by Allen Toussaint delivering that boogie sass. Another is the completely different take on Bob Dylan’s “A Simple Twist of Fate,” on which Brian Mitchell transforms this into a trip to New Orleans, complete with lovely piano and a soft, seductive vocal.  Chris Robinson delivers a wry “Shake Your Money Maker,” while  Jimmy Vivino takes us all to church with the gospel rave, “God Don’t Never Change.”

For me, it is always fun to hear a great old folk blues favorite like “Stagger Lee” again, so I also enjoyed Little Sammy Davis’  take on that song. Then there is the beautiful classic country sound of Carl Perkins’ “Turn Around,” sung by Teresa Williams with heartbreak in her voice.  Another impressive track is the a cappella “The Beautiful Lie,” sung in soul-searing harmony by Levon Helm’s daughter Amy Helm, Teresa Williams, and Fiona McBain.

The sound quality here is excellent for live recordings over a period of years, with much more consistency than you might expect. The overall feel is as though you have gone to a mid-sized venue in some mid-size American town and listened to an excellent show with a group of good friends. Any fan of the late and sorely missed Helm will want to have this CD in their collection.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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