Too often, Levon Helm is framed by his country-fried howl, but there was always more to his art — more to his voice, to his persona, to his life. “All La Glory” is a great place to achieve a vista on what lays beyond the hootenanny joys of “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Rag Mama Rag” and “Strawberry Wine.”
Singing with a twilit reverie, Helm handles the Robbie Robertson lyric with a deeply touching grace — giving great insight into just where the Band was, away from the bright circle of fame that was so often trained on them in this period. Things seemed to be coming into a sharp, personal focus for these fanciful storytellers. Robertson, Richard Manuel and Helm would each find new daughters in their lives by December of 1970, just a few months after Stage Fright arrived. This lullaby, more than any other to this point, shows the human side of these often overly dissected, yet still endlessly complex figures in the Band.
Then, there’s Garth Hudson. If Helm showed himself to have new depths of enchanting fragility on “All La Glory,” Hudson found his own space to amaze — expanding upon Robertson’s delicate guitar lines with a pining Wurlitzer accompaniment that sounds at times like a sleepy serenade and at others like an impossibly sweet dreamscape.
In a perfect moment of inflection, Helm’s voice cracks ever so slightly as “All La Glory” swells to its emotional conclusion — and this song finds its place as perhaps the Band’s prettiest, most tender-hearted moment.
Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.
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