Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#632 in the Series) is Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer. (Vanguard Records)
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 late 2007, I know! You’ll understand soon.)
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 over 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. Campbell also was the producer on the project.
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 won a Grammy Award for best Traditional Folk Album in 2008.
It peaked at #102 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. Levon Helm was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Band in 1994.
— Larry Carta
- “False Hearted Lover Blues” (Traditional) – 3:29
- “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” (Tracy Schwarz) – 3:52
- “The Mountain” (Steve Earle) – 3:35
- “Little Birds” (Traditional) – 4:41
- “The Girl I Left Behind” (Traditional) – 3:36
- “Calvary” (Byron Isaacs) – 4:53
- “Anna Lee” (Laurelyn Dossett) – 3:43
- “Got Me a Woman” (Paul Kennerley) – 3:11
- “A Train Robbery” (Paul Kennerley) – 5:28
- “Single Girl, Married Girl” (A. P. Carter) – 3:18
- “The Blind Child” (Traditional) – 3:26
- “Feelin’ Good” (J. B. Lenoir) – 3:31
- “Wide River to Cross” (Buddy & Julie Miller) – 4:52
- Levon Helm – acoustic guitar, mandolin, arranger, drums, vocals, liner notes
- Larry Campbell – dulcimer, acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, percussion, arranger, background vocals, producer, guitar
- Georgette Cartwright – creative services coordinator
- Ahron R. Foster – photography
- Justin Guip – engineer, mixing
- Amy Helm – mandolin, percussion, piano, arranger, drums, vocals, background vocals, producer, harmony vocals, mandola
- Byron Isaacs – bass, percussion, background vocals
- Buddy Miller – harmony vocals
- Julie Miller – harmony vocals
- Brian John Mitchell – piano, accordion, background vocals
- Glenn Patscha – pump organ
- George Receli – Percussion
- Doug Sax – mastering
- Carrie Smith – art direction, design
- Teresa Williams – background vocals, harmony vocals
- Official Levon Helm Website
- Vanguard Records Website
- Official Website of The Band
- See our piece on The Band, Rock of Ages
- See more from 2007
- Back to the Cool Album of the Day Home Page
Listen to the fabulous Dirt Farmer below
Here is a spectacular live version of “Anna Lee”
Here are some additional Americana albums for you to check out.