Magazine article The New Yorker

At the Helm

Magazine article The New Yorker

At the Helm

Article excerpt

When the Band disbanded, its members went on to solo careers of limited distinction. Robbie Robertson released a series of increasingly self-conscious albums. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel entered periods of drug trouble and then exited life. Garth Hudson soldiered on as a valued sideman. The post-Band lull was most perplexing for Levon Helm. If Helm was not the face of the group--it was at once faceless and multifaceted--he was arguably its voice; his vocals anchored such hits as "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Helm released a series of quiet solo records in the late seventies and early eighties, dabbled in acting, participated in a brief Band reunion, and battled cancer. His live music career rolled on (his Midnight Rambles in Woodstock are legendary), but he seemed finished as a recording artist.

Then, in 2007, Helm surprised everyone with "Dirt Farmer," an album of traditional and contemporary folk compositions that benefitted from being both trendy (many aging rock stars were revisiting the music that first inspired them) and excellent. …

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