Thursday, July 6, 2017

Amy Helm at City Winery

Born to Levon Helm, drummer of the Band, and singer/songwriter Libby Titus, and raised in part by her stepfather, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Amy Helm may have inherited her earthy musical style. In her early teens, she began performing in Manhattan music venues. In her mid-20s, her dad recruited her to join his latter-day bands, the Midnight Ramble Band and the Dirt Farmer Band. Ten years of these experiences gave her the courage to write and sing for the New York-based folk music group Ollabelle, and finally, as the leader of Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers. Her debut solo album, Didn’t It Rain, was released in 2015.

Amy Helm continues to perform frequently in New York clubs, but her feet are firmly rooted in the organic, rootsy music that has been integral to Woodstock's musical legacy. Bucking any current waves, Helm performed tonight at City Winery a timeless set of bluesy heartland music that borrowed much from vintage rhythm and blues but with sharp, driving guitar leads and a thick undercurrent of deeply-inlayed grooves. Cindy Cashdollar's slide work in particular animated and boosted the songs. Helm's husky, smoldering vocals resembled the gospel strains of the likes of Mavis Staples, and this particularly served well in her gutsy reinterpretations of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" and Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can," cover songs which complemented Helm's original compositions. Reminiscent of the Midnight Ramble series upstate, several local musicians joined Helm on stage for several minimally-structured jams towards the end of her set, concluding with a finale of Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know." Helm's performance was a lively set that breathed a timeless resonance.

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