A joyous meeting between musical legends continues

Some efforts to reunite musical legends seem contrived, as if they were set up for payoff between albums. Sometimes, however, when convergence is not calculated, momentum simply needs to be preserved.

Such is the case with “Carry Me Home”, a recently released recording of a memorable meeting between Mavis Staples and Levon Helm in the summer of 2011. In front of an audience at Helm’s studio Woodstock, New York, the duo rocked their way through a 12-song set of soulful, gospel and roadhouse blues that throbs with excitement and joy.

It’s reminiscent of Helm’s Grammy-winning “Ramble at the Ryman,” a live recording of a 2008 Nashville concert, but with one of the world’s greatest vocalists seated.

Not that Helm and Staples were at the peak of their powers. Helms would die within a year after a long battle with cancer, and Staples turned 72 that summer.

Yet that night they exposed everything there. Staples’ voice is full and strong, his approach generally fearless and downright sassy. Helm steps in on a raspy version of “The Weight,” but he stays behind for the most part.

There’s an overtly political cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “This is My Country” that includes complaints about Tea Partyers who want to take the country back to the 1950s or 1960s. Politics won’t be for everyone, and things have changed considerably since then, but the feelings are delivered with conviction.

On a stellar version of “Wide River to Cross,” the Buddy and Judy Miller song that Helm memorably covered on “Dirt Farmer,” Helm again defers to Staples on vocals, and the song sounds like it had been written for her.

Onstage banter isn’t included and the album has a studio quality to it, but it feels like the right choice. Otherwise, you might be overwhelmed by the only negative vibe that this album could leave you with: regret that you weren’t there that night.


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