Friday, April 20, 2012

The Legacy of Levon Helm

As we mourn the passing of the great Levon Helm, I wanted to take a minute to look at his work and what his legacy means to me. I grew up with the Band being played on my parents stereo, and early on couldn't quite understand the attraction. Compared to other popular groups at the time, they looked and sounded odd. Why were most photos of them in Black and White? Was that a banjo? An accordian? It seemed as if a weird throwback to the 1850's had mysteriously gotten popular just on the weirdness factor alone. In the era of 20 minute keyboard solos, tight trousers and long hair, these guys stuck out. As written in allmusic:
"The press latched on to the album before the public did, but over the next year, the Band became one of the most talked about phenomenon in rock music and Music from Big Pink acquired a mystique and significance akin to such albums as Beggars Banquet. The group and album ran counter to the so-called counterculture, and took a little getting used to, if only for their lack of a smooth, easily categorizable sound. Their music was steeped in Americana and historical and mythic American imagery, despite the fact that all of the members except Helm came from Canada (which, in fact, may have helped them appreciate the culture they were dealing with, as outsiders)."

By the time I was a teenager (and had seen "The Last Waltz" on HBO a zillion times) The Band and Levon Helm had emerged in my eyes as one of the most talented groups around. And apparently I wasn't alone. Many musicians of my generation were influenced by Levon's (and songwriting partner Robbie Robertson's) synthesis of the roots of American music. In fact, I would argue that what came to be called Alt-Country was in part a reaction to what The Band and a few other artists (the Byrd’s, Gram Parsons etc.) had done over this period. Of course there were other artists that were basing their sound on older forms of American music (The folk revival of the mid-sixties for example) but something about Levon Helms made The Band's music seem less an homage, and more the real deal. The library holds all of The Band albums on CD, as well as a copy of “The Last Waltz” on DVD. We also have lots of music that was influenced by Mr. Helm and company, and due to the scope of that influence, that’s quite a large collection. Here is a short list of some of those artists and albums:

The best make the music go bang!: Author: X (Musical group) Publisher: Los Angeles, CA : Rhino/Elektra, p2004. (As the Knitters)

Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound: Author: Mae, Audra. Publisher: Los Angeles, CA : SideOneDummy Records, p2012.

The whole love: Author: Wilco (Musical group) Publisher: Los Angeles, Calif. : Anti-, [2011]

American central dust: Author: Son Volt (Musical group) Publisher: Burlington, MA : Rounder Records, p2009.

89/93 : an anthology: Author: Uncle Tupelo (Musical group) Publisher: New York : Columbia Records, c2002.

Nothing's gonna change the way you feel about me now: Author: Earle, Justin Townes, 1982- Publisher: Chicago, IL. : Bloodshot Records, p2012.

Want to learn more? Check out the Americana Music Association site!

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