The first thing you should know about Amy Helm is that she’s a fantastic singer/songwriter. In 2015, she released her first solo album, Didn’t It Rain, after having been a member of Ollabelle and the Levon Helm Band. I caught up with her when she brought Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers to the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on her Woodshed Residency Tour, which had her playing weekly at the Lizard, and in New York and Philadelphia, throughout March. It was a soulful and rocking performance. She played stuff from the first album, some new things she’s working on, and a couple of familiar tunes from her days in her father’s band.
Which is another thing you should know about her. Her musical apprenticeship was served with her father, who just happened to be one of the masters, Levon Helm of The Band. She grew up wanting to be Carole King, and told me she once arranged “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath for mandolin. She played in some bar bands in her teens before she was drafted into service singing and playing mandolin and drums with Levon’s band.
She’s an intuitive and emotive singer, whether she’s belting out a rock tune, finessing old school R&B or old-timey folk or bluegrass. “I’ve always been a singer,” she says. “That comes first to me, and it’s come naturally.”
Songwriting came later. Helm is currently at work on her second album, writing and recording up in Woodstock. The idea of songwriting is a bit mysterious to her. “It definitely has it’s own magic to it,” she says, “and it’s own gift, I think, that lives apart from the song.”
We talked about her experiences with Levon’s band, finding her voice, and the sound for the new album, which she says will be a little less polished, recording the whole thing over five days playing live.
After the interview, stick around for a track from Bill Hicks: Live In Montreal, which was released in April. The track is “Hee Haw The Book,” and it’s taken from a performance at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival in 1991, one that helped him find a larger audience, especially in England.
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A big thanks to photographer JD Cohen, whose photos populate the gallery. I didn’t get many good shots at the show, and happen to notice him with his camera. I introduced myself, and he was kind enough to send me these shots, and the one in the banner above. You can find more of his work on his Facebook photography site.