Didn’t it Rain
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Even though this is officially Amy Helm’s debut, Americana fans know she is hardly a newcomer. The daughter of the Band’s drummer/vocalist Levon Helm and singer/songwriter Libby Titus has been a professional musician working both with her late dad on his Midnight Ramble shows and tours and with her own Ollabelle group who released four excellent albums. Like that outfit’s repertoire, Helm’s solo disc is an eclectic affair that incorporates elements of New Orleans funk, gospel, swamp, folk, country, pop and lots of soul. With that much going on, this could have been a sprawling mess, but Helm’s focus and talents knock it out of the park. Her captivating vocals, committed performances and a batch of terrific songs you’ll remember after the first spin kick this into high gear quickly.
From the folksy strum of Mary Gauthier’s “Gentling Me” that flows with the clarity and freshness of a mountain stream, to the Meters styled funk of the opening rearranged traditional and a knockout cover of Sam Cooke’s “Good News,” Helm is in complete control. She is just as effective on the rootsy pop of her original “Rescue Me,” the disc’s first single and a potent enough song to be a hit, at least in the singer/songwriter genre that should embrace this set.
Helm goes rockabilly on the shuffling “Heat Lightning” with impressive results (it’s also Levon’s only appearance on drums) and is a ringer for Rosanne Cash on the tough country waltz of “Spend Our Last Dime.” She gets sultry for the laid back, near jazz/blues groove of “Roll Away” and is just as effective on the lovely, acoustic folk “Deep Water.” The Southern soul quotient, specifically Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis as filtered through Shelby Lynne is full blown in “Sky’s Falling,” a tough, gutsy Muscle Shoals styled ballad. All Helm’s influences converge on the tough mid-tempo “Roll the Stone” where banjo and gospel backing singers along with a prominent Garth Hudson influenced organ (courtesy of John Medeski) drags the track through the swamps for the disc’s dramatic high point.
A closing “Wild Girl,” with Helm tearing it up accompanied only by reverbed-to-10 guitar from Daniel Littleton further proves that Helm is a dynamic, gifted and intense vocalist whose first solo effort only scratches the surface of her talents.