Despite efforts from the industry at-large to eviscerate the sacred art of making records, there’s still plenty of great music out in the wild. You may have to stop Instagramming your breakfast long enough to find it, but it’s there and it’s spectacular.
Amy Helm’s 2018 release, “This Too Shall Light,” is one such example, a vibrant, spacious sermon from an artist whose lineage is deeply rooted in a swell of American musical traditions. In other words, she draws inspiration from genres that the mainstream no longer deems worthy of attention, which allows her the freedom to release the kind of material worth investing in. Just as life finds a way in “Jurassic Park,” Helm finds a way to rise above the inconsequentiality of the modern age to create something beautiful.
I spoke with her recently to preview her upcoming show in Buffalo on Dec. 8, so, if you’re still searching for a way to spend all that Black Friday money, may I suggest going to http://www.tralfmusichall.com to snag a few seats before it’s too late.
Your friends and family will thank you.
MNOD: Last year’s “This Too Shall Light” was just the second album you’ve released under your own name. How do you feel as if you’ve evolved as a solo artist from 2015’s “Didn’t It Rain” to now?
Helm: Hopefully, I’ve gotten better. I think every artist wants put out the best record possible and I’m no different. I’m really proud of the collaborative effort of everyone involved in making this album, because I had terrific musicians backing me up.
MNOD: I read that you recorded these songs in very few takes. What role did that rawness play in the finished product?
Helm: It really contributed the overall sound and vibe of the record. Producer Joe Henry didn’t want me to sing them too much before cutting the record, because he wanted to capture our initial instinct. The beauty of the four-part harmonies is that we were all together in the same room making it happen.
MNOD: What drew you to these particular songs?
Helm: Some of them were suggestions and others were songs that I felt could live within the context of the album. They have a very free and loose feeling, which was enhanced by the presence of the choir. ‘Long Daddy Green’ is a song by Blossom Dearie that I especially love. I remember sneaking out to a jazz club in New York City when I was 13 to see her and that really influence me. I also wanted to include some challenging songs and some standards that I could really get into. A lot of them I was able to find a way into as I went along, because the songs continue to grow the more you sing them.
MNOD: You’ve described the sound of the album as ‘circular’ in the past. What did you mean by that?
Helm: The record is really about the harmonies and the joyful noise of a bunch of voices in the same room. The harmonies are constant throughout the record and really become its defining sound. I think what I meant by that is just the repetition of that formula and how it contributes to the fullness of each song. Joe and I patterned this album off a 1971 release from Delaney and Bonnie called ‘Motel Shot,’ which had a strong Southern gospel vibe to it.
MNOD: At what point did you begin to realize how influential your dad was on the industry?
Helm: When I was younger, I didn’t really know. He was already into a phase of obscurity by that point, so it wasn’t until we started doing ‘Dirt Farmer’ and ‘The Midnight Ramble Music Sessions’ that I understood the level of influence and reach he had. I would always meet drummers who would tell me how highly regarded he was among the drumming community. He was 1000% supportive of me getting into music and pulled me back into it when I was waiting tables, working at a flower shop, or just being lazy. He always encouraged me to get back into the fray.
MNOD: Who were some of your early influences besides your family?
Helm: Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash among others. There were so many.
MNOD: I played ‘This Too Shall Light’ for my wife and she said that you reminded her of Stevie Nicks. Is that something you’ve ever heard before?
Helm: No one has ever told me that before, but I’ll take it. She’s one of the greats. If there is any influence there, it definitely came out subconsciously.
MNOD: What can fans expect during the upcoming live show in Buffalo?
Helm: One of the best things about being on the road is that the songs evolve as the tour goes on, so there’s always room to change things up. I love artists who reinvent songs and keep the audience surprised as to what comes next. I’ll have a great band with me at this show and it’s going to be very energetic. I think it’ll be more rock ‘n’ roll and probably louder than people expect.
MNOD: When can we expect new music to emerge?
Helm: I’m actually working on new material now. I’ve been home a lot and working weekends, so I have time to spend with my boys.
Amy Helm will be at the Tralf Music Hall on Dec. 8 as part of The Rockin’ Twangy Blue Holiday Bash with special guests Tripi and Jony James.
“This Too Shall Light” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.