Levon Helm was arguably the heart and soul of the Band, and his back-porch Arkansas drawl gave many of the Band's best songs their strong sense of history and character. He was a remarkable vernacular singer in a band that had three of them (Rick Danko and Richard Manuel also knew how to put heart and soul into a song), and the Band, thanks in no small part to Helm, essentially put the Americana genre on the map in the mid-'60s. Helm's death in the spring of 2012 from throat cancer stilled that voice, but as this warm, redemptive tribute set shows, failed to take away the warmth, wisdom, and vision of that voice. Helm started his famous Midnight Rambles at his rustic studio in Woodstock, New York in 2004. These were loose and intimate shows where local musicians and whatever musicians happened to be wandering through would play and jam to a small audience (some 200 seats), usually with Helm sitting happily behind the drums. This tribute, held on October 3, 2012 at the 20,000 seat Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is itself like one of Helm's Ramble shows writ large, and all proceeds are being used to insure that the Rambles continue in Helm's memory. The show has the feel of a Band concert (only Garth Hudson was actually present from the original Band), with guest vocalists standing in for Helm, Danko, and Manuel, and it all works well, with a reverent and joyous vibe. Among the highlights are Warren Haynes' faithful version of "The Shape I'm In," My Morning Jacket's take on "Ophelia," Roger Waters' striking version of "Wide River to Cross," and a barnstorming "Up on Cripple Creek" from Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph, but the whole evening has a charmed feel, so picking favorites seems silly. Helm would have been proud. The only thing that could have made the event better was if he could have been there, but, as these things go, he obviously was in spirit. One would imagine the angels in Heaven are hearing some great Midnight Rambles of their own these days, since Helm wouldn't have it any other way.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2