PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Levon Helm: Ramble at the Ryman

This live album provides everything you'd expect, unless you were looking for a surprise.


Levon Helm

Ramble at the Ryman

US Release: 2011-05-17
UK Release: 2011-06-06
Label: Vanguard
Amazon
iTunes

There's no reason to be surprised at the release of a Levon Helm live album. For much of the previous decade, after his struggle with throat cancer, Helm has held his Midnight Ramble shows at his home in Woodstock, New York. Loose and playful, these shows define this era in Helm's career, which seems as much about gratitude and joy as anything else (good playing excepted, maybe). These shows occasionally go on the road, and the show at Nashville's famous Ryman Auditorium would of course be a noteworthy one, and with strong performances from all concerned, Ramble at the Ryman is a reasonable representative of the period.

The show gains strength from the Levon Helm Band's ability to integrate its numerous guests without the show ever losing its general feel. That it rolls so much like a jam session makes it more engaging, and when artists such as John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, Sheryl Crow, or Sam Bush stop by, Helm's tight band keeps doing its thing and, if you're not paying attention, you could even miss that someone new has stopped by. Miller's appearance might be a slight exception, because this performance of his and Julie Miller's “Wide River to Cross” adds an otherwise missing element of solemnity to the concert.

Of course, you can push the guests aside a little, because the show is largely about Helm. By the time this concert was recorded in September 2008, Helm had released Dirt Famer, which won a Grammy and was the official Return of Levon album. By this point his voice had returned well enough that he could sing a number of lead vocals and, while his voice isn't what it was, it still makes for a great listen. Helm's drumming is functional, but nothing about Ramble at the Ryman suggests this is a drummer's record.

Before this concert was recorded, two Midnight Ramble albums had already been released, but these releases came before the return of Helm's vocals and the development of this lineup. The group had cohered for Dirt Farmer into something excellent. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell stands out, but there are no weak spots here. I continue to think that Teresa Williams, here given “Time Out for the Blues”, is a hidden treasure needing more spotlight.

That said, the timing of this release seems just a bit odd. With the recording made between Helm's two solo recordings from this era, it makes commercial sense that it would have been held until Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt had their respective runs, but even after just two and a half years it seems likely that the band is changing somewhat. With Ryman, we're given the standard live album snapshot, but we don't get to look at it until after it's a little outdated.

Part of the point may be that, as we often hear, the music here is “timeless”, and with the band being so stronger a little lapse in time doesn't matter. Maybe it's a compliment to the band to suggest that the show doesn't necessarily stand out among other performances; the venue seems as important to the selection of this concert as one to release as does anything else. The band's strong enough that you could probably randomly pick a show and end up with an okay recording.

If you've followed the group, though, that might limit your response to this album, as you get exactly what you'd expec -- variations on roots music, some Band songs, some Helm songs, and some reworked traditional numbers. The band strays less during this concert than it has at other times (there are no zydeco numbers here, for example). While that makes for a more cohesive set, it also takes a little of the rollick out of the good time. Of course, if you've been following the Levon Helm Band, you might not be here for the surprise factor, and the concert does deliver what you'd expect, and in this case, that can't be a bad thing.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.