How many times did Levon Helm play the bedraggled rambling man, as flummoxed as he was besotted by his woman? Still, after what seemed then like an eternity away, there couldn’t have been a better opening cut than “Remedy” for the Band’s long-awaited studio return in 1993. This was Levon in his element, crying and moaning, shaking and shivering, letting it all hang down. And sounding like he absolutely loved every minute of it, heartache be damned.
Jericho had its echoes from the past. A song from Bob Dylan. A co-producer in John Simon. Garth Hudson, adorning everything with these striking, apparitional colors. Even a leftover track from the late Richard Manuel. And those voices — Levon: the knowing scamp. Rick, the devastated romantic.
If it was difficult not to notice that the leftover three were surrounded now by a bustling phalanx of new contributors — underscoring, for many, what was missing in the person of Robbie Robertson — then it must also be noted that successor guitarist Jim Weider’s co-write provides Jericho with its moment of liftoff.
Weider collaborated on “Remedy” with Colin Linden, who’d earlier recorded with members of the Band — and later joined Bob Dylan on tour. “I had this idea,” Weider tells me, “of ‘you’ve got the cure, you’ve got the remedy,’ and we just got together and sat down and worked on it until we got the music. He did a lot of the lyrics; he’s a really strong lyric writer. He took my chorus, worked on the chords, and got the music happening — and those guys dug it. I was really excited that it was the first song ever recorded by all of us. It was exciting to have a song on a Band record. We were very honored.”
All that was left, of course, was for Levon to be Levon. He growls and cries in lock step with a honking, Muscle Shoals-esque brass section led by trumpeter Dave Douglas — sounding as he’d been knocked silly by love: “I might get better,” he winkingly concludes, “but I won’t get well.”
There were those who openly questioned idea of the Band continuing without Robertson, those who wondered whether The Last Waltz should have, in fact, been the last thing. Their brilliant reworking of Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell,” found elsewhere on Jericho, certainly made the intellectual case. “Remedy,” it seems to me, makes the emotional one.
There’s something elemental about it, something guttural and real — something that Levon Helm, and maybe only Levon Helm, could do best. To have never had this moment (in particular given the tragic, too-early deaths of both Danko and Helm in the coming years) was to have lost something important, whether the album favorably compared with the best Band recordings of two decades before or not.
“I thought Jericho, overall, had some really good stuff,” Weider adds. “You could pick it apart — everybody, including me — but I was very proud of that album. That was a great period for the Band. We were sounding great, in 1993, ’94, ’95. Everybody was doing great; everybody was healthy. And we had a cool band with Randy Ciarlante on drums with Levon, the great Richard Bell, along with Garth, Rick and Levon, of course. It was powerful, a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll version, and it fit the times.”
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