By James Calemine
This recording captures Levon Helm’s band live at the Ryman Auditorium on September 17, 2008. The group that night included Helm, Larry Campbell, Amy Helm, Teresa Williams, Brian Mitchell, Erik Lawrence, Clark Gayton, Jay Collins, Steven Bernstein, Paul Ossola, Tony Leone and Sammy Davis.
Guest musicians during this performance featured Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, George Receli, Sam Bush and Billy Bob Thornton. Helm’s tenure in The Band, his Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer and his love for the American Songbook provided the group with a wide-range of material.
Thornton introduces Helm, and the whole ensemble kicks into The Band gem “Ophelia”. From the sound of Helm’s voice one would never know he defeated throat cancer. “Back To Memphis” and “Fannie Mae” travel back to Helm’s days with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins. Crow sings “Evangeline”, and a Carter Family tune “No Depression In Heaven”.
Sam Bush and Buddy Miller appear on “Wide River To Cross”. The traditional “Deep Elum Blues” is rendered beautifully. Campbell’s musical expertise and Helm’s inimitable voice carry “Anna Lee”. “Rag Mama Rag” always cause the toes to tap. Helm’s daughter, Amy, sounds like a cross between Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline on “Time Out For The Blues”.
Ramble at the Ryman closes with three classic Band songs: “The Shape I’m In”, “Chest Fever” and “The Weight”. One cannot quibble over Helm’s status in American music, and this release provides a compelling testimony to his timeless nature.