Review: Amy Helm Delivers with Subtle Passion on ‘What the Flood Leaves Behind’

Amy Helm
What the Flood Leaves Behind
(Renew Records/BMG)
4 out of 5 stars

Maybe you can go home again.

That’s the underlying concept behind Amy Helm’s third album. She returns to the studio her dad, The Band’s Levon Helm, built on the site of his Woodstock, New York house. It’s also where his famous Midnight Ramble concerts occurred, which Amy helped organize. The environment surely provided a calming, even comforting effect on Helm’s performance. 

There is a robust gospel texture to many of these ten tracks, seven of which she co-wrote. The bittersweet opening cover of “Verse 23,” originally by Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor, sets the tone as Helm wraps her voice around the titular words. Horns and organ on tracks such as “Calling Home,” where she asks for her father’s assistance with life’s difficulties, pleading, Dad if you could take me by the hand/ You could help me to stand, bring threads of righteousness to the sound. 

A search for morality underlies much of the ballad-based material. On the bluesy “Wait for the Rain,” Helm sinks into lyrics reflecting patience in hanging on in wet weather with Roses are slow/To grow back again…to fall like a memory. She shifts into a shimmering falsetto as she folds into the luxurious organic melody while backing female singers work a churchy call and response groove. Supple funk enlivens “Breathing,” where horns punctuate the lithe rhythm and Helm promotes the freeing spirit of life singing … we can be the moon and the rolling tide. She pulls out dad’s mandolin for the searing “Are We Running Out of Love,” an emotional plea for a divided society to embrace positivity. 

These concepts could easily devolve into simplistic clichés, but Helm’s sinuous singing and the full yet earthy playing deliver the songs and their messages with subtle passion and clear cut honesty. The album’s river-like flow, reflected in the cover photo, carries listeners along Helm’s spiritual journey, one that led her back to where she started for her finest release yet.

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