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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Levon Helm - A musician who ages like the finest bourbon whiskey, 3 July 2011
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ramble At The Ryman (Audio CD)
Who was your favourite member of the Band? It is a question that requires a large bottle of red wine and a number of argumentative souls to fiercely debate the merits of what remains one of the best things to ever come out of American music. You will probably never reach a consensus not least because the tragedies of the deaths of Richard Manual and Rick Danko when both still had much more music to give. Of course Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson are still active musicians and then you have this reviewers own favourite, the force of nature that is Levon Helm. In 2007 his album "Dirt Farmer" was his first solo album after 25 years and it was truly worth the wait. It was a veritable goldmine of organic country, blues and folk. As a slice of Americana roots music infused with southern pastoralism by one of its greatest living exponents it was a true blessing. It was made all the more special because of Helm's battle against throat cancer and the destruction of his recording studio in a fire. Helm is clearly made of strong stuff and his journey from a cotton farm in Arkansas, to a member of the Hawks, then as one of Bob Dylan's great sidekicks and a truly glorious career in The Band is one of rock music's most remarkable tales. The fact that this story continues should merit a sly but thankful acknowledgement upward should anyone reading this review be attending any religious establishments today!

Helm is now 71 and this live album recorded at the legendary Nashville's Ryman auditorium is a rare treat. Certainly his voice is not as strong as it once was but this does not detract from a brilliant performance where he adapts his vocals to the songs and is backed by a set of musicians who can take any song by the scruff of the neck and make it their own. The roll call includes his band leader Larry Campbell, Amy Helm his devoted daughter, Teresa Williams, Tony Leone and Sammy Davis, Brian Mitchell, Paul Ossola and a fine horn section. In addition are a range of special guests including Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller and George Rece. The album kicks off with Helm undertaking the lead vocal on Robbie Roberston penned "Ophelia' and produces a version which easily matches his performance on the Last Waltz. Throughout the Band classics are performed with gusto to a massively appreciative audience who can't quite believe their luck. The great duet he undertakes on Cajun flavoured "Evangeline" with Sheryl Crow is a corker and as that weather worn voice with its deep Southern drawl rings out you recognise it as the one of the most familiar and welcome sounds in American music. On the Band front we have great versions of some bona fide classics. You should check that your speakers are properly secured to the wall on a killer version of "Rag Mama Rag" and then there is the concluding triple whammy of the "Shape I'm in", "Chest Fever" and "the Weight". The latter is sung with the great John Hiatt, the most underrated American songwriter alive, who is clearly having the time of his life. Helm however knows about shades of grey and "Wide River to Cross" from Dirt Farmer is as deep as the ocean and would have undoubtedly required the handing out of free Kleenex to an emotional Ryman audience; alternatively "Deep Elem Blues" sung by Larry Campbell is the funkiest thing you will hear this side of Little Feat. All this music and more can be checked out live on the internet as the album soundtracks a PBS special introduced by long time Band fan Billy Bob Thornton. While your at it look out for the great cover performed by Helm and his band of the Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed" on the David Letterman show. As the host himself said of the fact of Helm's presence "everyone who is here tonight has reason to feel superior to everyone who is not".

This album should be in the display shelf at the Library of Congress for it captures music that feels timeless in its gestation and played by musicians who properly understand the meaning of the words "heart and soul". At the head of this great bunch of troubadours is Levon Helm a musician who ages like the best fine whiskey and just keeps getting better and better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ironic Masterpiece!, 26 April 2012
By 
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This review is from: Ramble At The Ryman (Audio CD)
This is a great live set, captured a few years ago, by one of the great names in Country and Rock music. Atmosphere, guests, band and recording quality are all first class. A must for all fans of The Band and of Levon and his solo career. He wil be missed by all lovers of good music.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars levon's still got it, 6 Nov 2011
By 
Gcblakesley (england) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ramble At The Ryman (Audio CD)
The voice is understandably croaky by now but, driven on by his daughter, levon still strolls through some old classics and new stuff with great aplomb.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ryman Rocks, 13 Sep 2011
By 
JM Peters "Da Kool Bunny!" (Plymouth, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ramble At The Ryman (Audio CD)
I'm old enough to remember and listen to the Band back in the day when they were the cutting edge of what was to later become Americana. One of the most distinctive voices in the band was that of drummer Levon Helm. Fifty years on he is amazingly still going strong under his own name, ploughing that same rich field of Americana with a mixture of Band tracks, his own solo material and a selection of country, blues and rockabilly hits. Ramble at the Ryman is as good a live album as you can get - it is full of rambunctious life, great musicality, great vibes and valid proof that you can get through a cancer scare and still be a valid artist - even if the voice has lost some of that old roar of the past. The band were five truly talented guys but I always thought that Levon Helm was the big heart of the band, and he just proves that again. Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIMPLY ONE OF THE BEST, 4 May 2012
By 
S. L. Bayes "STEVE BAYES" (TYSELEY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ramble At The Ryman (Audio CD)
R.I.P. dear Levon, you were one of the greatest. A fantastic singer and interpreter and a brilliant musucian. This album is a simply wonderful live record and should be played on mainstream radio every day. Any new, up and coming musicians out there who truly want to learn what life in the music business is all about should read all they can about Levon while listening to this record. This is what it's about. Ignore all the X Factor type nonsense, this is real musicianship from a true pro.God bless you Levon Helm.
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