Editors' pick

The Levon Helm Band

Folk/Bluegrass
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Editorial Review

LEVON HELM
Album review: "Ramble at the Ryman"

In recent years, Levon Helm has revived the notion of the country package show, where an assortment of singers and soloists each do a handful of numbers with the same band. Helm, the longtime drummer and singer for the Band, usually leads his “rambles” at his studio in Woodstock, N.Y. On Sept. 17, 2008, the ramble set up at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to raise money for the Americana Music Association, a group dedicated to hillbilly-flavored roots music.

The evening is now on CD and DVD, released as “Ramble at the Ryman.” The singers included Helm, daughter Amy, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Little Sammy Davis and keyboardist Brian Mitchell — members of the Levon Helm Band. The guests included Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Delbert McClinton and Billy Bob Thornton.

For legal reasons, vocals by Plant, Krauss and McClinton aren’t on the CD and DVD; for aesthetic reasons Thornton’s aren’t.

Helm was once one of the great rock singers of all time, but cancer has dimmed that voice. He is still a fabulous drummer, and his propulsive rhythms power songs such as Chuck Berry’s “Back to Memphis.” But the highlight is Miller singing his hymn-like “Wide River to Cross” over Campbell’s fiddle.

— Geoffrey Himes, June 3, 2011