Amy Helm

Amy Helm

Amy Helm sought what she calls a “circular sound” for her new album. It’s a well-rounded one, one marked by streaks of Americana, country, blues, and gospel, and the kinds of four-part harmonies that can burst open a melody and close the loop of an octave. And sentimentally, it’s a sound that represents the feeling of community.

This Too Shall Light, released September 21, 2018 on Yep Roc Records, comprises 10 songs produced by Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Joe Henry. Helm left her home and comfort zone of Woodstock, NY, choosing to record in Los Angeles within the confines of just a four-day window. The musicians were directed not to overthink the songs, and Helm herself barely performed any of the selections while leading up to the recording. As a result, the sessions forced fast musical trust among the collaborators and yielded the vibrant instrumental improvisations heard throughout This Too Shall Light.

Although a profound songwriter herself, Helm and Henry jointly arranged a diverse collection of songs for the record, which range from Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind” to Allen Toussaint’s “Freedom for the Stallion” and even the Milk Carton Kids’ “Michigan.” The title track in particular, written by Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor and Josh Kaufman (Josh Ritter, Bob Weir, Craig Finn), is a brilliant summation of the record’s sound and spirit. Seemingly a play on the old adage that “This too shall pass,” Helm’s voice veers from commanding to supplicating within a single soulful verse, as she manipulates that message so that light leads through out even the darkest of times.

A lifelong musician and music-lover, Helm’s parents —The Band’s legendary drummer and singer Levon Helm and singer/songwriter Libby Titus — guided her training and influences. She later became a founding member of the alt-country collective Ollabelle and served as a backing musician in her father’s Midnight Ramble Band. And on This Too Shall Light, Helm says that two songs in particular pay homage to Levon — “The Stones I Throw,” a song he released in 1965 with Levon and the Hawks, and the closing traditional number, an a cappella version of the hymnal “Gloryland,” which was passed from father to daughter. While This Too Shall Light is only Helm’s second album under her own name, it serves as a comprehensive portrait covering her life’s journeys and recoveries; They’re the stories that, no matter where they take her, seem to end and begin in the same place like a circle.

Mark Erelli

Growing up in the years between LPs and CDs makes Mark Erelli a member of the cassette generation, a vintage of music fan that fondly remembers the mixtape. Making these homemade compilations required a certain degree of dedication and craftsmanship, with hand-lettered fonts and drawings on the label signifying a personal touch. “Before dragging, dropping or streaming,” says Erelli, “I waited by the stereo, finger hovering over the ‘record’ button, to capture my favorite songs as they were broadcast.” Erelli vividly recalls how the whole process felt like “so much more than just a collection of songs. Working up the courage to give someone a mixtape didn’t just say ‘this music matters to me,’ it also said ‘you matter to me.’

This joint declaration of appreciation—for both his favorite music and his audience—is plainly evident on Mark Erelli's 11th album, Mixtape, his first collection exclusively of cover songs. ”I remember taking my time with mixtapes for some special people back in the day,” Erelli admits, “but this is the first time I ever spent 13 years making one.” Mixtape features songs culled from thirteen years’ worth of Erelli and friends’ annual Under The Covers shows, performed each December at Harvard Square’s famed folk mecca Club Passim. The covers show provides a valued tradition for Erelli and regulars like Lori McKenna, Rose Cousins, Jake Armerding and Mixtape producer Zachariah Hickman. “It’s the organizing principle of my entire year,” claims Erelli. “The day after each year’s show, I start compiling a new list of potential covers for the following year’s gig.”

Mixtape draws on inspiration from the past 50 years of popular music, covering artists Erelli considers to be fundamental influences (The Band, The Grateful Dead, Richard Thompson) alongside newer favorites like Neko Case and Arcade Fire. According to Erelli, “groups like The Dead were ‘gateway bands,’ because in the process of getting hooked on their music I also got exposed to bluegrass, jazz, early rock n’ roll and so much more.” Erelli’s elegiac take on Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “Brokedown Palace” kicks off the album, with a string prelude that signals he is forging ahead into new sonic territory. By the time Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” hits, deep on Mixtape’ssecond side, Erelli’s is howling with abandon, his voice surfing a veritable maelstrom of strings, skittering drums and thunderous, dark piano chords.

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