Amy Helm / Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Amy Helm would rather talk about her band. She’d rather talk about the song she hopes to sing with her uncle, Terry Cagle, on Friday night at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. She’d love to talk about the all-star producer, Joe Henry, who helped her put together her new album, “This Too Shall Light.” That recording, her second solo album, was released Sept. 21.
But as for what she does to make a song hers, she demurs.
She just knows that when she approaches a new song, it either comes together in a rush or it likely never will.
“I’ll know pretty quickly if I can do it honestly or not,” Helm said during a recent phone interview.
What: Amy Helm / Earl & Them
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12
Where: George’s Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville
Tickets: $20-$25 via stubs.net
That spontaneous approach was part of the reason she left the friendly confines of Woodstock, New York homestead where her family has made music for decades. The famous Rambles organized and performed by her father, drummer Levon Helm, provided comfort and a space for his daughter to flex her voice.
The sessions in Henry’s West Coast studio produced “This Too Shall Light,” which features 11 tracks, most of which are Helm’s reimagining of songs by other artists.
The idea was to take Helm’s quick work on songs and capture the on-stage magic. The formula was based on an album Helm and Henry loved – “Motel Shot” by Delaney & Bonnie. It sounded live, fresh and frantic.
“Everything is played and sang with abandon,” Helm said. Using that idea, Helm took just four days to record her sophomore release. It contains songs by Rod Stewart, Allen Toussaint and the Milk Carton Kids, among others.
There’s also a track by one of her father’s groups. Levon Helm performed “The Stones I Throw” with Levon and The Hawks, the group he inherited from Arkansas native Ronnie Hawkins. Levon Helm, also an Arkansan, later went on to find fame as a songwriter, vocalist and drummer for The Band, which had success as the electric backing band for Bob Dylan and later on their own.
Helm has connections to Arkansas, and she expects many of her extended family members will make it out for Friday’s show. The opening act for the evening has deep ties to the area and Helm family, too. Levon Helm helped Springdale natives The Cate Brothers find a major label record deal. The Cate Brothers toured with The Band frequently. And while The Cate Brothers now perform infrequently, an offshoot group called Earl & Them – featuring Earl Cate on guitar – performs regularly and will do so on Friday.
Helm’s own touring band will back her for the bulk of her set, although special guests are likely. She chooses her setlist with the intention of showing off her band’s natural talents.
“I don’t think there’s enough time to sing the accolades of the band. I’m honored to be with them,” she said.
There will also be a song with her dad, she promises.
She loves coming back to Fayetteville, not just a town that has connections to her friends and family but one that she calls “a very vibrant, very happening town.”
She’s happy to heap praise on the town, and just about everyone but herself. She plays mandolin, and drums, and she writes her own songs, but she’s primarily performing those of others. Perhaps she’ll surprise everyone and play drums Friday night. It depends on if she can, like her dad always told her, find the courage of her convictions.
She’s working to shine her own light.