Levon Helm, "Electric Dirt"

71 Billboard Rating

Much like Bob Dylan's "Together Through Life," Levon Helm's "Electric Dirt" is less a collection of songs than a fully formed little world. A sprightly, worthy sequel to 2007's Grammy Award-winning "Dirt Farmer," which represented Helm's remarkable comeback from throat cancer, "Electric Dirt" is pegged to stories of the land and its attendant details. It's driven by Helm's warm, amazingly rich moonshine vocals and decorated with bluesy guitar sprinkles, angelic violins and lovely harmonies by his daughter Amy of the folk-rock outfit Ollabelle. The album's opener, a hardscrabble cover of the Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed," would be worth the ticket price alone. But Helm also stretches the scope of his previous album, including a joyous revival number ("When I Go Away"); a swelling, gospel-kissed tale of a farmer's struggle ("Growin' Trade"); and an Allen Toussaint-arranged cover of Randy Newman's "Kingfish."