Reviews: Down-Home Music

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Ever have one of those days when you’re tired of rock and roll?  Maybe the day you took that Chickenfoot CD home, listened and said “eh.”  It might be time to get back to yer roots, boy. 

Levon Helm has released his second album since beating throat cancer, and Electric Dirt couldn’t be a more appropriate title.  This sequel to his acclaimed Dirt Farmer album is more, ah, electric, with joyous covers of blues and gospel and a detour through the Louisiana swamplands.  Kicking off with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” the album’s first half recreates some of Farmer‘s Appalachian feel, with a highlight coming in the earthy “Growing Trade,” a sad tale about the American farmer.  But with the Allen Toussaint-arranged “Kingfish” (a Randy Newman song about the infamous Huey P. Long), Helm steers into the same territory covered by the Band in their heyday.  Unlike Elvis Costello’s current dead-on-arrival roots exercise, Electric Dirt is the real deal.

MP3: “When I Go Away” by Levon Helm

Son Volt is one of the bands that rose from the ashes of Americana darlings Uncle Tupelo, and their newest, American Central Dust plows the same rich earth as Levon’s Americana.  And with the gently loping “Roll On” or the safely rockin’ “Jukebox Of Steel,” Son Volt doesn’t stray far from their strengths.  You can always bet frontman Jay Farrar will crank out a few gems per album, and he doesn’t disappoint: “Dust Of Daylight” and the aforementioned titles are worth hitting the repeat button for.

MP3: “Roll On” by Son Volt

Wilco is, of course, that other band from Uncle Tupelo’s wreckage.  Wilco is also the name of their new album, and the name of the first song.  “Wilco (The Song)” promises that Jeff Tweedy and Co. are ready to rock your world.  And for the most part, they do, with the trademark power pop of the title song and the catchy “I’ll Fight.”  While these are some of the best songs Wilco’s offered, this may also be a little overproduced for these down-home boys.  Still, Wilco (The Album) is worthwhile even for the casual fan.

MP3: “Wilco (The Song)” by Wilco (the band)

Ian Hunter probably doesn’t belong in this COVERcompany, but his 13th solo album Man Overboard makes it a comfortable fit.  The former Mott the Hoople frontman certainly knows his way around a song, although his voice isn’t the supple instrument it used to be (he’s 70 years old!).  He can dig out a catchy Faces-style hook when he wants to but often it doesn’t go anywhere (“River Of Tears”) or is wasted on a goof (“Girl From The Office”). 

MP3: “Flowers” by Ian Hunter

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