There will never be another like Levon. His vocals were always raw with passion, they were the sound of the lusty wildcat, the stern Southern preacher, the depleted Confederate soldier, the dirt farmer at the end of his day. His vocal delivery of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” on this album is but one of the many masterpieces that Levon left behind. Levon’s music and vibe spoke directly to your soul, you know he meant everything he put down. He embodied the music in a way few ever could. The fact he did it from behind the drum kit is just another proverbial icing on the cake to the level of this mans talent. Drumming is a tough enough to master on its own and there have been very few that could deliver a lead vocal from behind a kit.
“The Weight”, while not on this particular album that I paired this evening, has always been one of my all time favorite songs ever. It embodies everything you strive for as a songwriter. It encapulates an entire world inside those few minutes that transports you immediatley into a story. “The Weight” takes the folk music motif of a traveler, who in the first line arrives in Nazareth in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. (The band Nazareth took its name from this line.) Once there, he encounters various residents of the town, the song being a story of these encounters. Nazareth is the hometown of the guitar manufacturer C. F. Martin & Company.
Robbie may have been the main songwriter in the group but Levon was truly a vessel for its delivery. A vessel that had the touch, the style and the grace that left no room for doubt that he certainly meant every single word he sang and every beat he played. As a southern boy, Levon’s voice and style always resonated with me. It would stop me in my tracks and make me stop what I was doing, capturing my full attention. I just couldn’t help it. The night they drove old dixie down indeed.
I’d be a bushwhacker
Even be your hijacker
Keep your candle burning bright
When we cross that railroad track
There’ll be no turning back
Come tread softly through the night
Don’t leave me sitting here
Up on top of your fence
I’m like an alley cat up here, without a lick of sense
Volcano–I’m about to blow
Volcano–Look out below
Levon Helm, May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012
Life is a carnival, believe it or not.