Levon Helm / The Levon Helm Band

The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3

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In 2004, Levon Helm was eager to play music again after a bout with throat cancer but wasn't up to touring yet, so he began hosting weekly concerts at the recording studio at his estate; calling the show "The Midnight Ramble," the concerts featured Helm and a handful of talented friends as well as occasional guest stars, and became quite popular among his fan following. Helm recorded most of the concerts, and two years after his passing, the third in a series of albums featuring music from the "Ramble" performances has arrived. Featuring music recorded between 2005 and 2010, The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3 is the most entertaining installment in the series so far, mainly because it's the most diverse; Helm only takes the lead vocal on four songs here (doubtless in deference to his weakened vocal cords), but he's engaged and authoritative when he has the strength, especially on the feisty "One More Shot," and his drumming is typically splendid as he and his band make their way through country heartache ("Turn Around"), slinky, hard-as-nails boogie ("The Same Thing"), blues-shot gospel ("God Don't Never Change"), strutting uptempo Chicago-style blues ("I'm a Jealous Man"), and bluegrass gospel harmonies ("The Beautiful Lie"). A few guests add some extra star power here, with Allen Toussaint lending fine vocals and excellent piano to "A Certain Girl," while Chris Robinson brings some suitably wiry vocals to "Shake Your Money Maker," and a few of the tunes get a fresh twist, most notably Brian Mitchell's New Orleans-style reworking of Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate." Like most of Levon Helm's shows in his last decade, The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3 feels more like a revue than a headlining performance from the man who was the soul of the Band, but this is all music that spoke to him, and he brought out the best in his accompanists; no matter how much fate tried to bring Helm down, once he stepped on-stage, he gave all he had, and this album testifies eloquently to that.

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