Two veterans turn in a gem of blues and rock
Reviewed March 2008
Toolin' Around Woodstock
By Arlen Roth, featuring Levon Helm
Aquinnah Records: 2008
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
With a thirty-five year musical career that's still surging ahead, guitarist Arlen Roth is a master of all styles: blues, rock and country. "Toolin' Around Woodstock" opens with a crisp version of Chuck Berry's classic "Sweet Little Sixteen," and it might make you think he's got about the greatest rock and roll band going (sorry Rolling Stones). The guitar work has a sharp sting to it over the driving rhythm, and it's none other than Levon Helm, of The Band and "Dirt Farmer" fame, growling out the lyrics on his rejuvenated vocal that have come back strong after a bought with cancer and the radiation treatment cure.
A lot of familiar territory is traveled here. Joe South's "The Games People Play" is given a beautiful acoustic turn, with Roth and guest guitarist/singer Bill Kirchen trading lead vocal chores, leading into a searing instrumental version of Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," guitars afire.
Carl Perkins' "Matchbox" chugs along on a bass/drum shuffle behind Roth's sharp guitar twang, and Levon supplies more vocals on Buck Owens' "Crying Time." Helm's got the drummer's chair on ten of the fourteen tunes here (recorded in his studio/barn in Woodstock, N.Y.) and for all the talk his singing has gotten over the years his drumming is, and always has been, superb. Check out his rock-steady back beat on Chuck Berry's "Don't You Lie to Me."
Roth has a real feeling for the blues (he taught Ralph Macchio his guitar parts for the movie 1986 movie, "Crossroads"). The set's closer, Chuck Berry's "Deep Feeling," gets down into a wee hours Chess Records/Mississippi Delta mood on his and Sonny Landreth's wailing slide guitars.
A real bonus on the set is the early rock chestnut "Just One Look," with Amy Helm and Lexie Roth (daughters of Levon and Arlen) on vocals. The tunes has a relaxed, airy quality, with an accordion sighing behind the ladies, giving the sound a Cajun tint.
Another bonus: the accompanying DVD that gives a look at some of the nuts and bolts of a recording session in Levon Helm's barn up in Woodstock.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.