Levon Helm, RIP: Appreciate His Legacy in 15 Tracks

Helm performs at the Fillmore East in 1969 / Photo by Elliott Landy/Redferns
Helm performs at the Fillmore East in 1969 / Photo by Elliott Landy/Redferns
WRITTEN BY
Richard Gehr

THE FIVE BEST DEEP CUTS

1. Levon Helm – "Lucrecia" (1982)
A certain stank often imbues the atmosphere when Levon sings about women. And the lady of the evening who stars in this funky tune by frequent Aerosmith content supplier Richard "Richie" Supa is especially ripe. The song begins with the singer — "so eager and in need of affection" — pulling up to the "Pair-ee-dice Hotel" under the advisement of a stranger. By the time he leaves, “Lucrecia,” a distant cousin of Ophelia, perhaps, has left him feeling "weak in the knees after the ragin' commotion."

2. The Band – "Don't Ya Tell Henry" (1995)
The Band took a busman's holiday from recording Moondog Matinee to play the gigantic Watkins Glen festival in 1973. Levon delivered one of their set's strongest performances with this version of Dylan's inscrutable barnyard ditty in which animals and humans alike try to hide the fact from Henry — whoever he is — that "Apple's got your fly." Helm sounds like he knows, though, which is reason enough to hear him out.

Don't Ya Tell Henry (Live)

3. Levon Helm and the Crowmatix – "Rag Mama Rag" (2001)
Helm rocks out with some Woodstock locals on another Band tune he claims wasn't appreciated until after it was in the can. Levon and pals capture the laid-back yet prickly essence of Southern culture in this rollicking portrait of a man pitching inebriated woo to a woman who's up and left him once again. He recalls the gold ol’ days when it was just "you and me and the telephone, our destiny was quite well-known."

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4. Levon Helm – "The Mountain" (2007)
On Dirt Farmer, his first studio album in a decade, Helm addressed the national malaise by returning to his roots with a terrific acoustic album. Who knew that Levon would evolve into one of the country's finest pure country singers? This Steve Earle gem about the horrors of strip mining turns out to be the perfect vehicle for Helm's rich blend of nostalgia and regret.

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5. Levon Helm – "Tennessee Jed" (2009)
It's somehow fitting that this final studio album, Electric Dirt, opens with a track that combines Dylan's joking and surreal imagery with Robbie Robertson's deft portraiture. The now-elderly Helm inhabits the hapless Jed with as much regional aplomb as he does any of Robertson's characters, only this time it's Helm's own band blowing behind him. A fitting send-off indeed.

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