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Ramble at the Ryman by Levon Helm

Levon Helm’s 1960s and ’70s work with The Band paved the road for today‘s Americana—a mix of hardscrabble country, folk, blues and what-have-you.

That’s the menu for Levon’s South-centric Ramble at the Ryman, which documents a 2008 Nashville show. Levon cherry-picks The Band’s repertoire and tosses in Appalachian, Cajun and Delta sounds for an overview of 20th-century America’s lower half. This ain’t no history class, though. This is a stage full of fine musicians and guests having as much fun as the audience—so you might opt for buying the matching DVD.

Both the chestnuts and The Band selections here sound best in their original versions (partly due to the diminished power of Levon’s voice after his bout with throat cancer). But his singing brims with spirit, and he and his cohorts deliver these mostly vintage tunes with gusto. We’re lucky to have him, and equally fortunate that—as long as Levon and his ilk are on the scene—the modern hit machine can’t drive old Dixie down.

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