During the making of her rootsy solo debut LP, Didn't It Rain — out now — Amy Helm faced the 2012 death of her father, the Band's legendary drummer Levon Helm. She was also enduring the end of her marriage, while welcoming the birth of her second child. Helm, who had been part of the alt-country band Ollabelle and a longtime member of her father's Midnight Ramble Band, was led by the seismic shift those life-changing events created to re-record half the album.
While it carries her father's name as executive producer (Levon played on three cuts) and is awash in a wide array of influences from R&B and blues to folk and country, Didn't It Rain firmly establishes the younger Helm as one of Americana's most impassioned, soul-stirring singers. It stands to reason, then, that Helm would be especially drawn to one of the LP's cover tunes, "Good News." A favorite of her father's to play at the many Midnight Rambles he hosted at his home in Woodstock, New York, it's a song that Sam Cooke wrote and recorded at a pivotal time in his own turbulent life.
In the summer of 1963, Cooke's 18-month-old son drowned in the family's swimming pool. Months later, the first new music the R&B, gospel and pop icon would record in the wake of his son's tragic death was "Ain't That Good News," a lively reworking of an old gospel standard, which shifted the lyrics from spiritual to secular but maintained the joyful exuberance of the original. The tune served as the title track of Ain't That Good News, the last he would release before his own tragic shooting death at 33 in December 1964. For her rousing version of the song, Helm looked no further than her family's own backyard.
Filmed entirely outdoors on a crisp autumn day, outside the Levon Helm Studios and "the Barn" where the Midnight Ramble performance sessions and other concert events still draw large crowds, the accompanying video for "Good News" follows Helm and her band on a march through the woods. While Helm's performance spotlights her raw, organic approach to the tune, it also carries the freewheeling spirit of Cooke's original.
"I loved being able to connect to this song, singing it night after night, and building a vocal arrangement around my dad's one-of-a-kind groove," Helm tells Rolling Stone Country. "When we recorded it for my album, we decided to switch gears and do it acoustically. I wanted the video to capture as much of the live energy of my band as we could. So along with great vision from director Michelle Cutolo and crew lead by producer T Zhang, we opted for a live one-shot performance which we filmed on a beautiful autumn day."
Helm is getting ready to hit the road with Anders Osborne. Here are the dates for her upcoming trek:
February 11 – Nashville @ City Winery
February 12 – Birmingham, AL @ Workplay
February 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage
February 14 – Charleston, SC @ Pour House
February 17 – Wilmington, NC @ Brooklyn Arts Center
February 18 – Easton, MD @ Avalon
February 19 – Washington, D.C. @ 9:30 Club
February 20 – Irvington, NY @ Irvington Town Hall Theater
(headlining with opener Adrien Reju)
February 25 – Boston @ Paradise Rock Club
February 27 – Ardmore, PA @ Ardmore Music Hall
February 28 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Alter
March 1 – Columbus, OH @ Park Street Saloon
March 2 – Cincinnati @ Taft Theater
March 4 – Chicago @ Thalia Hall
March 5 – St. Louis @ Old Rock House