Levon Helm, “Even a Fool Would Let Go” from Levon Helm (1982): Across the Great Divide

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“Even a Fool Would Let Go” provides rare moment, in the same vein as the Band’s “All La Glory,” to experience Levon Helm’s tender, heart-openingly emotional side.

Justly praised for his ability as vocalist to breathe life into a series of finely constructed characters and, of course, to raise the roof on any old knee-slapping country honk, Helm has never gotten the same level of praise for his way with a ballad. “Even a Fool Would Let Go,” then as now a journeyman country tune, made the case all over again as part of Helm’s second self-titled album.

Singing with a measured reserve, at first over a simple electric piano signature, Levon Helm reaches for new places inside his heart as the story of a tempting — but ultimately foolhardy — passion for someone who’s already taken unfolds in this Tom Snow/Kerry Chater composition. Where a series of game interpreters (from Charlie Rich to Dionne Warwick, from Kenny Rogers to Gloria Gaynor, from the Marshall Tucker Band to Dolly Parton) had largely gotten nowhere with “Even a Fool Would Let Go” by 1982, Helm races right to its yearning centerpoint.

In Levon’s hands, this isn’t the corny lament it had so often been before, or the maudlin confession. “Even a Fool Would Let Go” becomes a meditation on choices we make that still hold some meaning, even when history has revealed their obvious folly. Levon Helm, as he so often did, uncovers the touching humanity beneath the surface — and, by plunging so deeply, takes this song to places it had perhaps never been before.

He wasn’t the last to tackle “Even a Fool Would Let Go,” as Debby Boone and Joe Cocker joined what became a strikingly long list. Charlie Rich’s was apparently the highest-charting version. Released in 1980 as a single, though Rich recorded the song back in 1976, it crept no higher than No. 61 on the country charts. Helm’s subsequent take, for all of its lasting complexity, sunk like a rock as part of an album that received precious little support from Capitol.

Stung by a series of such career mishaps, Levon Helm wouldn’t return with another proper solo release until 2007’s Dirt Farmer. “Even a Fool Would Let Go,” however, is worth going back for.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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