Writing this post difficult for me. I am a man who loves music, and tends to hold musicians in an esteem that could easily be described as not completely healthy. Men such as myself with the aforementioned music affliction are bound to have our favorites, and for me Levon Helm is in the company of about a handful of other gentleman who’s music has affected me in such an impactful way.
That said, when I heard the sad news from Levon’s family I knew I had to write this post, and wanted to somehow, someway make it something more than the obligatory RIP Levon Helm, “Heart and Soul of The Band” blog post. I don’t know Levon Helm personally, and am not going to sit here and pretend that his passing is going to leave some sort of void in my life, I will leave that to the undoubtedly large number of friends and family that are truly devastated by his passing. My connection to Levon Helm was his music, and lucky for me that isn’t going anywhere.
The act that Levon’s name will forever be most associated with is of course The Band, a group who despite only having one American member, may very well be the best example of an “Americana” act that we have ever heard. The lone American member, no doubt responsible for The Band attaining the oft-mistaken distinction as “The Greatest American Band” was of course Levon Helm. The Band had the luxury of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to vocal talent, but Levon’s twangy, soulful, off-kilter voice stood front and center. While there has been a great deal of controversy over the years about who wrote what in The Band’s catalogue, Levon’s role as “Band Leader” seems uncontested. From the early days as the Honkeys, to the Hawks’ turn as Dylan’s electric backing band to his late career ramblin’ renaissance, Levon sat perched behind his drum kit leading the way.
From a musicianship standpoint, Levon Helm had it all – he was one of the most technically proficient drummers I have ever heard, his voice was so authentic you could pick it out from a mile away, and he was able to carve out a unique style and sound he could truly call his own. By all accounts, Levon Helm was every bit the man that he was a musician; making his passing that much more sad for those he held close. While the people who knew him well continue to mourn his loss, I will say a little prayer for the Helm family and drop the needle on some of my favorite records, courtesy of the man himself. Thanks for the memories Levon, ramble on my friend…..
Every year about this time, the Grammy awards pop up and set the blogs and music message boards on fire with calls for relevance and better representation for non-mainstream music. This year was no different as the majority of the major awards went to the who’s who of popular radio.
In the end, the Grammy’s are what they are, year in and year out. An overblown spectacle complete with predictable awards and bloated “performances” from flavor of the month entertainers. While it is a shame that America’s largest music awards ceremony has gone the way of the FM radio, every year there are exceptions(although they rarely make the broadcast). While the calls for the Grammy’s legitimacy may have their merit, it is nice to see some great work be honored, even if they are relegated to the categories at the bottom of the page.
While I am in no position to second guess every category and say who should have won what; I can recognize some of the winners who’s work I have really appreciated this year.
Best Alternative Music Album - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
I am not sure exactly what entails an Alternative Music Album, but I am sure this album has it. A very solid album that brought this band into another stratosphere.
Best Pop Instrumental Performance – Throw Down Your Heart – Bela Fleck
The man can play the banjo! From his “Tales of the Acoustic Planet” Series, I didn’t realize traditional African music classified as pop music, but Bella takes his show to Africa and comes out with a Grammy. Works for me.
Best Rock Instrumental Performance – A Day in The Life – Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck is a guitar monster, and this live take on the Beatle’s classic is flat out awesome. While his version of this song has been around for years, this cut from the “Live at Ronnie Scotts” gets him the trophy.
Best Pop Instrumental Album – Potato Hole – Booker T. Jones
Booker T or Booker T and the MG’s fame gets the Drive By Truckers and Neil Young as his backing band. Yes, it is pretty cool.
Best Long Form Music Video – The Beatles – All Together Now
There is just something about the Beatles winning Grammy in yet another decade that makes me grin. The “Love” Show is awesome, why should the behind the scenes documentary be any different?
Best Americana Album: Electric Dirt – Levon Helm
We knew he had the Americana sound in him. After all, he was the only American in “The Band”; widely known for their roots Americana sound. “Electric Dirt” and Levon Helm are as about as Americana as it gets, sorry Wilco!
Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package: Neil Young Archives Vol. 1
Yeah, this is an award for packaging, but this box set was incredible, and any awards it gets are good in my book.
Best Contemporary Blues Album: Already Free – The Derek Trucks Band
Beating his wife out for this award probably won’t win him any points at home, this has to feel good.(Susan Tedeschi also nominated for her Album “Back to the River) With a pretty busy day job with the Allman Brothers, it is great to see Derek honored for his hard work on this album
Best Contemporary Folk Album: Townes – Steve Earle
This album full of songs by his mentor Townes Van Zandt was a pretty close to home project for the troubadour Earle. Too bad this one wasn’t broadcast, knowing Steve this is one acceptance speech I would have liked to have seen.