One Track Mind: Amy Helm, “Roll the Stone” (2012)

You imagine that Amy Helm, daughter of the late Band drummer and singer Levon Helm, would want to carry on his legacy, and “Roll the Stone” connects on that level. She’s not aping any expected Americana cliches, though — welcome news, indeed.

Instead, Helm digs into a deeper, bluesier groove, and stays right there, even as her vocals reveal a welping sense of determination buried deep in this song. There’s both a twanging hurt, with Helm sounding something like Bonnie Raitt at her most lonesome, and this sense of front-porch congeniality.

“Roll the Stone,” an advance song from a promised spring debut release from Helm, proudly displays its scars, all while asserting its own path out of that pain.

Meanwhile, her band lopes and clatters along behind, in perfect harmony, all of that portraying its own dauntless constancy. Taken together, “Roll the Stone” recalls the broader sweep of Levon Helm’s essential complexity, as both a backwoods and bluesy vocalist, a furiously inventive song stylist and brave curator of age-old sounds — not just some country-pickin’ caricature.

Helm is, in her own fashion, to the musical manor born — raised up among Midnight Rambles; sitting in with A-list guest stars like Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Mavis Staples, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello; already the owner of a Grammy for best traditional folk album as co-producer of Levon Helm’s triumphal 2007 album Dirt Farmer.

But she’s earned her own stripes along the way, co-founding the roots-rocking Ollabelle, which was named after Ola Belle Reed, the famed Appalachian songwriter. Their eponymous 2004 release was produced by T-Bone Burnett.

And, with “Roll the Stone,” she’s taken another huge step — not so much out of Levon Helm’s shadow, but just beside it. This track shows how her father’s legacy could and should play out: As a platform, rather than as a requiem.

    

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.