Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer

Want to hear one of my favorite songs of 2007?

It’s hard to decide to pick a  favorite fact about Levon Helm: that he played Loretta Lynn’s dad in Coal Miner’s Daughter; that he grew up in a small town called Turkey Scratch outside of Helena, AR; that he now plays with a small band in his barn in Woodstock, alongside special guests that include Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, and (somewhat shockingly) Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan; that, both with the Band and on his own, as well as backing Bob Dylan, he’s been a part of some of the most soulful, earthy, and spiritual music in the American canon.  

But then there’s this: the fact that he battled throat cancer since the late 90s, beat it, and has recovered 80% of his singing voice, then came back to record Dirt Farmer, one of my favorite CDs of last year.  Listening to him talk in the “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” video, it’s clear that his speaking voice remains as woozy as fellow Band-mate (and frequent Neko Case collaborator) Garth Hudson’s organ drones, but hearing that slow tenor over Helm’s trademark plodding drums is something special.  And listening to that weary voice interact with the farmers around him with such respect and reverence — “Mr. Jim, I was thinkin’ about you the other night.  There was a special on the History Channel about Iwo Jima” — is beautiful.  This is a man who gets it.

I cannot — cannot — wait until Newport.

One Response to “Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer”
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  1. […] but I can’t tell you how thankful I am for it.  I talked about Levon Helm and the Band yesterday, and while I certainly love Helm solo and the Band, I can’t tell you how excited I am right […]

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