This Too Shall Light, Amy Helm's sophomore solo album, is a logical progression from 2015's excellent Didn't It Rain (recorded after three dynamite albums with Olabelle), but it's also a marked departure. For starters, she stepped away from her home base in Woodstock to work with producer Joe Henry in Los Angeles at United Recording Studios in Hollywood, where the Beach Boys records Pet Sounds and the Mamas and the Papas tracked the immortal "California Dreamin." Second, in order to "meet" these ten tunes directly, she refrained from rehearsing or playing them live beforehand. Henry played her Delaney & Bonnie's cult classic Motel Shot, recorded to resemble its many players hanging out and singing in a rundown roadside motel room. This date was cut in four days and the end result captures that spontaneous feel but takes it to another level sonically and emotionally. The material is uniformly strong; it makes use of many of Helm's gifts as a singer ranging between country, rock, folk, soul, gospel, and even jazz. Gospel, however, is prevalent, thanks to Helm's desire to hear a gospel chorus (from three talented backing vocalists) behind her on every song).
The opening title track penned by Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor and Josh Kaufman, crosses through sparse, slippery, bluesy rock in the intro before diving headlong into soulful gospel. Its lyrics reference Donny Hathaway's "Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)," and Helm gets inside them to marry hope and caution. The cover of Henry's "Odetta" is completely revisioned. In the grain of her voice, L.A. singer/songwriter balladry is wed to the Band's gritty country gospel. Tyler Chester's cascading piano and Jay Bellerose's subtle martial snare point her toward an uncertain horizon -- which she embraces. The Milk Carton Kids' "Michigan" is a mournful song of grief and loss painted by Helm's earthy voice expressing deep loneliness as the green backdrop of the Great Lakes state passes in the rear view. The gritty, funky Southern-style soul on Allen Toussaint's "Freedom for the Stallion" marries Gladys Knight's stirring sea of emotion to Ann Peebles' weary-to-the-bone heartbreak. A stellar reading of Rod Stewart's "Mandolin Wind" is delivered with acoustic and electric slide guitar and a honky-tonk piano -- Helm's mandolin is notably absent -- but the romantic ache in her delivery more than compensates. Her reading of Blossom Dearie's "Long Daddy Green" (a song Helm has loved since childhood) utilizes a blues-haunted B3 in an unorthodox -- but empathetic -- approach to jazz; it's a saloon song of uncommon emotional depth. "The Stones I Throw" was the last single Levon Helm sang with the Hawks before emerging with the Band. Of all the tracks on This Too Shall Light, this and the traditional closer "Gloryland" resonate with Motel Shot's feel: They balance sacred and corporeal celebration with want, loss, and earthly gratitude. As fine as Didn't It Rain was, This Too Shall Light better illustrates the diversity and power of Helm's abundant talent. ~ Thom Jurek
- Format: Vinyl
- Released: 09/21/2018
- Genre: Rock