Last year, as Amy Helm was amassing material for her second solo album, she had one song that kept gnawing at her. Co-written by Mike “M.C.” Taylor and the National/Bob Weir sideman Josh Kaufman, “This Too Shall Light” was equal parts swinging groove and the spiritual heaviness that Taylor brings to his regular group Hiss Golden Messenger. And even though Taylor and Kaufman had written it for a tentative future project for Helm, she decided she couldn’t wait.
“The week before I went out to record, that tune in particular was singing in my mind off and on throughout the days,” Helm says. “I could hear it fitting into this new record I was about to make, especially soaked with harmonies. So I took it for this one.”
“This Too Shall Light” wound up becoming the title track for Helm’s new album, which is due this fall. It’s a perfect tone-setter for the rest of the album, which features originals alongside covers of songs by T Bone Burnett, Allen Toussaint, Blossom Dearie, Rod Stewart and even her late great dad Levon Helm’s old group the Band.
As is typical for the songs that Taylor writes, “This Too Shall Light” is steeped in the epic struggles of everyday people – “Everything will be everything / If we make it that far, baby, that’s something” – accompanied by a killer groove. That particular line is a nod to “Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything),” the closing track of the 1972 Donnie Hathaway in-concert album Live.
“It just felt right for the mood of the song,” Taylor says. “It’s a really sad song that swings, which is my favorite kind of music. Jay Bellerose’s drumming makes it that. He’s pretty much untouchable.”
This Too Shall Light is Helm’s second solo album outside of her group Ollabelle and was overseen by Joe Henry, the Grammy-winning tastemaker producer whose credits include Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Solomon Burke and Carolina Chocolate Drops. They worked hard to get Helm out of her usual comfort zone, starting with the recording venue – Los Angeles rather than the familiar confines of her father’s Barn studio in Woodstock, New York.
Recording took four days, with no vocal overdubs and two takes or less on almost every song. To keep things fresh, Henry even went so far as asking Helm not to get to know the songs too well before the recording.
“He did not want me to get too familiar with them,” Helm says. “He wanted it to be undiscovered, and he had a very specific thing he wanted us to emulate – Delaney & Bonnie’s album Motel Shot, which is very loose and live. That was our true North.”
This Too Shall Light will be released September 21st.