Love For Levon Could Be The Year’s Best Live Recording

Courtesy:  Time Life Entertainment/StarVista

Courtesy: Time Life Entertainment/StarVista

Drummer Levon Helm was no ordinary drummer.  He was a musician.  He was a musician among musicians and a musician of the people.  When he finally lost his battle with throat cancer in 2012, the world knew that it had lost not just a man but a legend.  It was Helm that made Midnight Rambles so famous.  And it was those concerts and Helms’ own music that made him the beloved figure that he is today even though he remains only in spirit.  Now thanks to Time Life and StarVista, fans of Helm and his music get to experience one of the greatest tributes to his legacy in the newly released concert, Love For Levon: A Benefit To Save The Barn.

Love For Levon: A Benefit To Save The Barn was released this past March.  It was released in five different formats: Double-Disc CD, Double-Disc CD/Double-Disc DVD, Double-Disc CD/Double-Disc Blu-ray, Double-Disc DVD, and Double Disc Blu-ray.  Regardless of whether audiences pick up the solo DVD or Blu-ray sets or the deluxe sets including both the CD and DVD or CD and Blu-ray, they will be getting in this concert what is among the year’s best live recordings.  It is more than deserving of that honor first and foremost because of the variety of options from which audiences can choose in experiencing this concert.  It is also more than deserving of the honor of being on the list of the year’s top live recordings thanks to its production values.  The all-star line-up and equally extensive set list adds even more reason to praise the performance.  The packaging for the deluxe sets is another interesting addition to the overall presentation that is worthy of note, too.  All assembled together, it makes this recording one that any fan of Americana and music lover in general will find entertaining each time they turn it on.

The very first thing to note about Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save The Barn is the variety of platforms on which it is available.  It is available in two deluxe packages that include both a double-disc CD portion and double-disc video portion.  Those that have HDTVs and Blu-ray players are offered the set with a double-Blu-ray video portion.  Those with DVD players are offered the deluxe package that includes the video recording on DVD along with the double-disc CD accompaniment.  There are also the stand alone DVD and Blu-ray sets as well as a stand-alone double-disc CD set from which audiences can choose.  This vast amount of options may not seem like much to some.  But the reality is that it plays a much bigger role in the overall presentation of this set than some might believe.  Depending on one’s budget or perhaps access to one format or another, Time Life Entertainment has given audiences as many possibilities as possible to be able to enjoy this performance.  Generally when it comes to live recordings, it seems the standard is to present the recording either on one format or another and leave it at that.  Time Life Entertainment has done the exact opposite.  It has offered this iconic performance in every format possible, save for digital.  Though, that will likely come.  For this alone, the people at Time Life Entertainment are to be highly commended.

The multi-format packaging for Love For Levon (as it will be simply known from here on out) is a major positive to the overall positive outlook on this concert.  Moving forward, one must also take into account its production values in determining its success or failure.  Obviously, the good people at Time Life Entertainment maintained the mantra that failure is not an option even with the recording’s production values.  The audio and video were expertly mixed.  Audiences will notice this both on the DVD and Blu-ray presentations as well as on the CD presentation.  This is a factor that is just as important as the number of formats from which audiences to have choose in experiencing the concert.  It is just as important because without proper mixing, there is no reason to buy the recording on any platform.  There are live recordings out there that leave audiences wondering what those behind the boards and cameras were thinking and were they awake at their posts.  Obviously, those behind the board s and cameras were well awake at this concert.  It looks and sounds excellent all the way around.  Even the lighting on stage itself was just right.  When blues great Mavis Staples takes the stage to sing ‘Move Along Train’ every note from Ms. Staples and the backing musicians is crystal clear. This expert mixing is handled throughout the near three-hour long concert.

Having taken into account the production values of Love for Levon, the next logical step is to take a slightly broader examination in looking at the show’s set list and its equally vast array of performers.  These too, are boons to this recording.  Mavis Staples is just one of the many superstars that made appearances for the benefit.  Also on hand were the likes of: Jakob Dylan, John Mayer, Roger Waters, Eric Church, My Morning Jacket, Dierks Bentley, Ray LaMontagne, and a whole who’s who of music past and present.  That so many artists from so many different corners of the music world came together for this performance shows the impact that Levon Helm had in his life and still has even though he remains only in spirit.  While the conglomeration of artists was in itself quite impressive, one must agree that the performance’s set list was just as incredible.  The bluesy feel of ‘Trouble in Mind’ and ‘Move Along Train’ is just a pair of the highlights from the performance.  ‘Little Birds’ and ‘Listening to Levon’ are just impressive in their more subdued, emotional tones.  These are just a handful of the songs that audiences will enjoy throughout the course of what is one of the year’s must have live recordings.  During the concert, the performers and their songs will send audiences on an emotional and musical journey that they will not forget.  It is a journey that after it’s over, audiences know they will want to take again.

So much work went into bringing Love for Levon to the masses.  The performances in this recording are outstanding, as are the performers and the songs.  The show’s production values are well above par.  And that Time Life Entertainment and StarVista have given audiences so many options from which to choose in deciding on how to best take in the concert sweetens the deal even more.  There is one final piece to the puzzle that makes this recording one of the year’s best live recordings, if not the best of the year.  That piece of the puzzle is the packaging.  This critic had the honor of receiving a screener of the deluxe double-disc CD/double-disc DVD set for review.  The packaging for this deluxe is impressive in its own right.  All four discs in the set are placed into their own mini-sleeve so to speak within the larger package that also includes a bonus booklet.  The bonus booklet includes very moving tributes written by Charles McCardell and Keith Wortman.  Wortman writes so eloquently of Helm in his addition to the included booklet, “In this age of artificially constructed music, Levon was the genuine article…in how he played, sang, and carried himself.”  He goes on to include a quote by Bruce Springsteen about Helm that is just as touching.  McCardell adds his own touch, expressing the joyous air that filled the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ, where the tribute concert was held.  His writing that, “From the energy generated in the building, it’s hard to tell who was more excited—the audience or the performers.”  Home audiences will see exactly what McCardell means when they watch this concert.  That single note echoes everything that has already been noted here.  And it can all be experienced now.  The concert is available now.  It can be ordered direct online via the Time Life Entertainment website at or via Amazon.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

West Of Memphis Soundtrack A Good Counterpart To Documentary

Courtesy:  Legacy Recordings

Courtesy: Legacy Recordings

Sony Pictures Classic recently released a new documentary titled West of Memphis in very limited release.  The documentary—produced by famed director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)—focuses on the investigation into the 1993 killing of three eight-year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the controversial trial that would follow.  Three men—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley—were arrested and charged with the murders.  The three now grown men were teenagers at the time.  Over the course of the men’s incarceration, increasing amounts of evidence began to seemingly point to the men possibly being innocent of the crime.  Support for the men grew increasingly over time.  Much of that support came from the music community.  Now in coordination with the documentary’s release, Sony Pictures Classic and Legacy Recordings have partnered to release music from many of the artists who have supported the cause of proving the men’s innocence in the form of a soundtrack to the documentary.

The documentary’s soundtrack opens solidly with Henry Rollins reading a letter written by Damien Echols, one of the three men charged in the case.  His solemn reading backed by the music of Nick Cave expertly sets the mood of what is to come even for those who haven’t had the opportunity to see the documentary.  Echols’ words echo through the speakers, exhibiting exactly what Echols was thinking and feeling.  Cave’s musical backing makes this moment all the more emotional.  As Echols’ final words are spoken, the solemn mood is maintained in the soundtrack’s next piece, ‘Mother.’  Natalie Maines’ delivery as she sings, “Mother do you think they’ll like this song/Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls/Mother should I build a wall/Mother should I run for president/Mother should I trust the government/Mother will they put me in the firing line?” is absolutely haunting.  Her response on behalf of the figure’s mother is just as powerful and moving.  The lyrics and music combine to make this one of the outright best pieces on this brand new soundtrack.  Lucinda Williams follows with an equally powerful song in ‘Joy.’  It’s powerful, but in a different manner.  The dark, bluesy sound backing Williams’ singing, “I’m gonna go to West Memphis and look for my joy” is something that simply must be heard to be fully understood.  It’s just one of so many songs that listeners will enjoy in this compilation.

Just as powerful and moving as the soundtrack’s opening tracks is The White Buffalo’s performance of ‘House of Pain.’  The song is sung from the perspective of a young boy whose father is anything but in the picture.  The young boy eventually grows up still without his father, still feeling the pain.  He sings, “wasn’t I worth the time/A boy needs his daddy like a dance to mime/And all the time/I looked up to you/I paced my room a million times/And all I ever got was one big lie/The same old lie/How could you?”  Put in the right context, this brings full circle the letter read by Henry Rollins as the soundtrack opens.  Echols mentions having a son in his death row letter.  Considering this, one can only imagine this being used in the context of perhaps exemplifying the mix of emotions felt by Echols’ son during his son’s incarceration.  It is without a doubt one of the most powerful songs on the soundtrack.  It’s a song that as with Lucinda Williams’ take of ‘Joy’ must simply be heard to be believed.  As impressive as it is, listeners are given other amazing songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, and Citizen Cope just to name a few.  The soundtrack to West of Memphis is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered online direct via the Voices for Justice online store at

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it or its companion page,  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at