CLUB HELSINKI HUDSON
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – No sooner did one think he had Amy Helm pegged – “Aha, she’s at heart a gospel singer,” for example, after one number – than did she turn on a dime and another roots-music tributary of American music came out of her – “Oh, at essence she’s a blues singer” – in her terrific performance at Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday night that showcased her stylistic versatility and her considerable talents as a vocalist, bandleader, and mandolinist.
As the daughter of the late Levon Helm and singer-songwriter Libby Titus (now Mrs. Donald Fagen), Helm veritably bleeds music, particularly American roots. And accompanied by her three-piece band at Helsinki in what was reportedly the first gig of this lineup, Helm didn’t shy away from her legacy, but rather embraced it and celebrated it.
The first half of her show mostly comprised original numbers that will presumably be included on Helm’s upcoming debut solo album. Helm has already made her mark as a member of the gospel-roots group Ollabelle and as a performer with her father’s Midnight Ramble band, which continues its weekly showcase despite her father’s passing. But front and center, Helm displayed a remarkable voice and musical versatility in the vein of the group with which her father had his greatest creative and commercial success – the great North American rock band — and the only one worthy of the moniker — The Band.
Helm’s original tunes ranged the gamut from country-funk to folk-soul to blues-rock to honky-tonk. She mixed in a bit of classic soul, too, and showed herself a worthy successor to Dusty Springfield as well as Emmylou Harris.
A gorgeous original soul ballad morphed into a cover of the Ann Peebles classic, “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which Helm made her own while emerging totally credible as a blue-eyed soul singer. Helm’s band, with an odd configuration of two acoustic guitarists and a drummer (Byron Isaacs and Dan Littleton on guitars and bass guitars, Justin Guip on drums), was fantastic, somehow evoking the backing of a full-fledged rock band (again, much in the vein of The Band).
Helm turned her setlist over at that point to an acknowledgment of influences, covering tunes by Los Lobos (“When the Circus Comes to Town”), Bob Dylan (“Every Grain of Sand,” “Meet Me in the Morning”), Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie (a rockabilly version of “I Ain’t Got No Home”) and even a number by The Band (“Twilight,” which was originally sung in a demo version by her father but ultimately claimed by bassist/vocalist Rick Danko, and, somewhat oddly, written by her father’s post-“Last Waltz” nemesis Robbie Robertson, whom her father went to his grave mercilessly mocking, blaming for the breakup of The Band, and even accusing of outright thievery).
It was an utterly enjoyable show, if somewhat of a halfway move towards establishing her own identity out from under those considerable and weighty influences. Undoubtedly over time, the original Amy Helm can’t but help emerge out from under the weight of her legacy.
Seth Rogovoy is the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet (Scribner, 2009).