Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hope for old rockers everywhere: Levon Helm goes gospel!

My favorite rock band will always be "The Band." They haven't played together since their breakup in 1978 and they never will do so again in this age. The brown sepia-tone photo at right was the cover of their 1969 album, their second, which was simply titled The Band. It is widely acclaimed as their "masterpiece" and shall forever be known to their fans as The Brown Album.

From left is Richard Manuel, piano, drums and lead singer; Levon Helm, drums, mandolin and lead singer; Rick Danko, Bass, violin, guitar and lead singer; Garth Hudson, Lowrey organ, piano, keyboards, saxophones, accordion, horns; and Robbie Robertson, lead guitar and song writer.

Yes, you read that right, this group had not one, not two but three lead singers, Manuel, Danko and Helm, and they were all great. Helm did more lead singing than the others, but Manuel and Danko could hold their own against any rock singer of that time or now.

They broke up when Robertson decided he was tired of touring in 1977 and their final concert was filmed by Martin Scorcese as The Last Waltz, which is still known as the greatest rock movie of all time.

I still love their music but there's a tinge of sadness every time I listen to an album. Two members are already gone. Richard Manuel took his life in depression during a brief reunion tour in 1986 with four of the members, minus Robertson. Rick Danko died of a heart attack, much too young in 1999.

Garth Hudson is still making music solo and Levon Helm lost his voice for a while due to throat cancer, but has now healed is back making music also. His latest album (I'm an old fart, so I still think of CDs as albums) was a birthday present for me at 62, titled "Electric Dirt."

And what a joy Levon's new album is for me personally as a Christian. I'm listening to it now as I type and can hardly believe my ears. Old rocker Leon done "got religion!" Several of the tracks on Electric Dirt are out-and-out gospel tunes, such as Move Along Train, Golden Bird, White Dove, When I Go Away, Heaven's Pearls and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

And even the other tracks have a gospel tinge. The old rocker's best days are ahead of him.

There's hope for anybody and Levon Helm joining the ranks of the heaven bound is good news for the whole world.

I can hardly wait to see what I pray will be the long-awaited reunion concert by The Band when they get together just inside the Pearly Gates and jam for a thousand years.

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