Doctors told Levon Helm that throat cancer would prevent him from ever warbling another tune. That was nine years ago, and judging by the way he's belting out the old-time mountain traditionals his mama used to sing (in addition to songs of the Stanley Brothers, Carter Family and Steve Earle), reports of his singing career's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
It's going to take more than a few malignant tumours to stop tough hombres like Ronnie Hawkins and Helm from doing anything they've got their mind set on, and Helm was clearly determined to pay tribute to the memory of his folks. Although he hasn't quite got the familiar Levon growl back for Dirt Farmer, there's passionate urgency behind every word.
The production multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell provides a backdrop of rootsy austerity that may seem counterintuitive considering Helm's only at half his vocal strength, by his own estimation. But with a little help from daughter Amy Helm of Ollabelle and Buddy & Julie Miller, he's still got power enough to carry the weight. Comeback of the year.