Fri · April 6, 2018
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
$20.00 - $25.00
Tickets at the Door
This event is minors under 18 with parent or legal guardian
"I'm just trying to tell some stories as honestly as I can," Amy Helm says of Didn't It Rain, her first solo album.
Although the personally charged, organically soulful Didn't It Rain is her first release under her own name, Amy Helm has been making music for most of her life. She's already won widespread praise as a singer, songwriter and live performer, first as a member of the celebrated alt-country collective Ollabelle and subsequently for her extensive work with her father, musical icon Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012.https://www.dspshows.com/event/1648474/
Although the personally charged, organically soulful Didn't It Rain is her first release under her own name, Amy Helm has been making music for most of her life. She's already won widespread praise as a singer, songwriter and live performer, first as a member of the celebrated alt-country collective Ollabelle and subsequently for her extensive work with her father, musical icon Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012.
Blessed with a commanding, deeply expressive voice and an uncanny songwriting skill that instinctively draws upon a deep well of American musical traditions, Amy Helm delivers a timelessly powerful statement with Didn't It Rain.
The spellbinding dozen-song set is rooted in first-person experience, exploring universal themes of life, love and loss on such musically and emotionally resonant originals as the smoldering soul ballad "Rescue Me," the hushed, lilting "Deep Water," the meditative "Roll Away" and the stark, haunting "Wild Girl." Complementing Helm's originals are her personalized takes on the Sam Cooke classic "Good News" and the traditional title track, which she delivers with the heartfelt gospel urgency that's always been an element of her vocal persona.
Accompanying Helm on Didn't It Rain is an impressive roster of players and singers that demonstrates the esteem in which the artist is held by her peers. Helm's former Ollabelle bandmate Byron Isaacs, who produced the album, co-wrote the majority of the songs with Helm, and is featured as one-third of Helm's current live trio the Handsome Strangers, playing bass alongside guitarist Daniel Littleton and drummer David Berger. Also contributing their talents are Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne; guitarists Larry Campbell, Chris Masterson and Jim Weider; keyboardists Marco Benevento, John Medeski and Brian Mitchell; and guest backup vocalists Carolyn Leonhart, Elizabeth Mitchell, Allison Moorer, Catherine Russell and Teresa Williams.
Photo by Ahron Foster
Didn't It Rain also marked the final recording sessions of Levon Helm, who acted as the project's executive producer as well as adding his unmistakable drumming on three tracks; Levon's distinctive count-off can be heard kicking off Amy's rousing take on Martha Scanlan's "Spend Our Last Dime."
Helm had originally planned to release her solo debut a bit sooner, but chose to substantially rework the album that she initially recorded, recutting more than half of the songs with the road-tested Handsome Strangers.
"That was kind of a reckless move financially, and it's resulted in the album coming out two years later than I originally thought it would, but it was the right thing to do," she acknowledges. "When I started the record, I'd never done a gig under my own name, and I was still getting comfortable with the idea of being a solo artist. I thought I'd finished the record, but then I started going out on the road, and the stuff that we were doing live was so much stronger than what I had recorded, and I started feeling more confidence and focus. So we went back in the studio, with no money and no budget, and found a way to do it and get it right."
Many of Didn't It Rain's songs are the product of an extended period during which the artist endured a series of personal trials and life changes, including the April 2012 passing of her father and chief musical mentor.
"The past few years have been profoundly transformative for me, so I wanted to tell some of those stories as honestly as I could," she asserts. "I thought about the people I had lost, and things that had fallen apart and things that were coming together, and that influenced the way I sang these songs."
Amy Helm began connecting with audiences early in life, playing her first gig in her early teens in a Manhattan bar and drifting informally through a series of combos before her father recruited her to join his live band. She also absorbed musical and personal inspiration from her mother, noted singer/songwriter Libby Titus; and her stepfather, Steely Dan co-mastermind Donald Fagen, who offered Amy additional opportunities to find herself as a performer.
Photo by Connor Kennedy
"I always did gigs through high school and college," she explains, "but my fears and insecurities kept me from committing to it. That's when my dad became a huge influence; he scooped me up when I was in my mid-20s and put me in this blues band. I was very, very green, but I got my road-dog status with him. It was like walking through fire every time I got on stage, but it forced me to decide if I wanted to do this. And I decided that I absolutely wanted to do it."
Amy's vocal and songwriting talents soon found a home in the New York-based Ollabelle, whose three acclaimed albums and countless live gigs saw her evolve into a confident, charismatic performer. She also resumed her musical collaboration with her father, singing and playing in his band, playing on and co-producing his Grammy-winning 2007 comeback album Dirt Farmer, and helping to organize the now-legendary Midnight Ramble concerts at Levon's home studio in Woodstock, NY.
"He was the best teacher, in so many ways," Amy says of her father. "He wasn't interested in overthinking anything; all he cared about was playing music. He saw himself as a working musician, and it was serious business and it had to be right. Playing side by side with him in the Ramble band for ten years, and building those shows with him, really changed the way I approached things, and his humility influenced and shaped me as a musician, as it did everyone who played with him."
With Didn't It Rain reintroducing her to the world as a solo artist, Helm says that her immediate plan is "to just get out and play as many gigs as possible. I think that the job of a musician is to try and shake people out of their own heads for an hour or two, and bring some joy into the world. So I want to get out there and do the job the best I can."
Connor Kennedy is one such soul. And he was put here to make music. Great music. Heartfelt music. Lasting music.
“Connecting with music kept me out of trouble—a lot of the kids I knew when I was younger ended up in jail,” says Kennedy, who grew up in a working-class neighborhood of the upstate New York town of Saugerties. Now in his early 20s, Kennedy has had experiences many musicians can only dream of: leading his own band, making records, playing to packed houses on tour, and sharing stages with personal heroes like Graham Nash, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and NRBQ's Joey Spampinato. Now the seeds sown by his experiences have come to full fruition with Somewhere, the stunning third album by this artist chosen for Yahoo! Music’s “25 Singer-Songwriters Under 25” list.
For Kennedy, it’s all about the songs. Songs that glow with the kind of durable melodies, vivid imagery, and timeless warmth that will see them radiate from his generation to the next: the soaring “Summer Days,” a wistful, warm-weather earworm that weeps with Harrison-esque guitars and doomed romantic ennui; “Tied Up, Lied Down,” a fuzzy rocker that chugs like the best top-down highway tune Tom Petty never wrote; and “Star,” about a young actress-turned-singer and the machinations of fame. Co-produced by Kenny Siegal (Langhorne Slim, Chris Whitley, Marco Benevento) and featuring guest appearances by John Sebastian and Amy Helm, Somewhere is set for release in July 2017.
Kennedy was raised near Woodstock, a region well known for its prior musical contributions (the Big Pink house made famous by Bob Dylan and the Band is right up the road). He started on guitar at 10 and by 13 was playing open mics and writing songs. Initially timid about performing his tunes, he honed his live chops as a solo blues player. At 14, he got a job emptying trash cans at Levon Helm’s celebrated Midnight Ramble events in exchange for free admission. “I’d sit right behind Levon and watch him play,” he recalls. “It taught me so much, it was an amazing opportunity.”
Kennedy’s songwriting confidence was bolstered by his 2013 solo debut, Nothing Lasts: Nothing’s Over, a rag-tag collection of tunes he'd written throughout his latter adolescence. He next assembled Minstrel, a formidable new backing band: longtime drummer Lee Falco, bassist Brandon Morrison, and organist Will Bryant. The buzz kicked up by their soulful indie rock led to rabidly received opening slots on North American tours with The Waterboys and the Gipsy Kings. The unit recorded 2015’s transcendent Live in Utopia at Todd Rundgren’s former Bearsville soundstage.
To another of Kennedy’s heroes, Little Feat’s Bill Payne, the singer-guitarist and his group are among the brightest young torchbearers of the Americana tradition. “That’s four generations of music right there, and Connor and his band fit right in,” Payne says. “He’s creating his own music. His band really feels like a band to me.”
Although his songs have proud links to earlier styles, by no means is Kennedy overly beholden the brown suede and buckskin of decades past. “I think The Flaming Lips deserve to be called Americana as much as anyone,” he says. “I’ve been influenced by The Lips as much as I have The Band.”
Indeed, such openness to new sounds and those other elusive qualities—seasoned musicianship and, above all, impeccable songwriting—are exactly what Connor Kennedy brings on his new record and wherever else he’s going on his musical journey. A journey that, lovers of fine music should note—euphorically—is still only just beginning.
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