Amy Helm’s second album opens with a blast of guitar sounding like a foghorn announcing the arrival of what is quite a special album. That foghorn guitar belongs to the opening title song which is a masterful slice of soulful funk, the rhythm section metronomic and sly while guitars fizz and burn beneath her impassioned vocals. The song was written for Helm by Hiss Golden Messenger’s Mike Taylor and Josh Kaufman and it’s a perfect introduction to an album that is yet another addition to the grand canon of releases which celebrate the soul of American roots music.
Produced by Joe Henry, This Too Shall Lie finds Helm recording in LA, far away from her Woodstock home. The overall sound however is steeped in the south with churchlike organ, slippery guitar and gospel like harmonies present throughout. There’s a preponderance of covers here which is not a bad thing as Helm delivers a magisterial reading of Allen Toussaint’s Freedom For The Stallion, transforms the Milk Carton Kids’ Michigan into an aching slice of Muscle Shoals groove with hints of Aretha Franklin within it and offers T Bone Burnett’s River of Love an excellent soulful makeover.
Helm’s voice is a revelation here as she delves into soul and gospel, powerful and emotive this talent was only hinted at on her previous album. Her tribute to Odetta is a tour de force and its allied to a tremendous arrangement which has an almost chain gang like repetition to it as it hammers along although elaborate piano notes take the song to a higher plain. The shadow of her late father Levon Helm (who last recorded on Helm’s debut album) is cast on two songs. The Stones I Throw was a Band staple back when they were Levon and The Hawks and here it’s given an excellent rambunctious rendition as if it were the Staple Singers delivering it. The album closes with an a capella rendition of Gloryland which was Levon’s usual choice of encore. It goes without saying really that here Amy Helm and her harmony singers put their all into this Ralph Stanley song which encapsulates that southern sense of finality, glory and redemption as they close the lid on an excellent album.